SKOWHEGAN — School officials this week decided to keep a mask mandate for students and staff in place, citing a steep drop in the number of students who have had to quarantine so far this school year.

The Maine School Administrative District 54 board of directors Thursday chose to stick with its August decision to mandate masking districtwide. MSAD 54 serves the towns of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Skowhegan.

People who attended the meeting were split in their comments to the board. Some, including a bus driver for the district, commended the district’s efforts while others encouraged the board to drop the mandate.

District Superintendent Jon Moody said the mandate has resulted in a significant drop from last year in the number of students required to quarantine following a positive COVID-19 case. Out of the 60 positive cases that were reported during the last school year, 36 were among students, leading to 1,004 students who subsequently had to quarantine, or “28 quarantines per student.”

“With the rules this year around universal masking, we have gone from 28 quarantines per positive student to five per positive student and have reduced the number of (students) quarantining to 417,” Moody said, explaining that keeping students in a classroom setting, rather than learning remotely, is crucial “for their safety and mental health.”

Wearing masks in schools is necessary in light of how children under 12 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, he said. If federal authorities in the coming weeks approve vaccines for children 5 to 11, Moody said vaccination clinics will be set up at school for students with parental approval, much like what’s been done in the past with flu shots.


“We have to do a great job continuing to focus on student well-being,” Moody said.

Assistant Superintendent Mark Hatch reported that the district has finished its first week of pool testing and he’s seen benefits from it. Because the district has only participated for a few days, cumulative data is not yet available, Hatch said.

“Right in the beginning we had an individual who was able to not have to quarantine after they were identified as a close contact (of a positive COVID-19 case) because of the start of pooled testing,” Hatch said.

He said that so far this week all but one test had come back negative. When a pool testing result comes back positive, all students in the pool are tested again to identify the positive case.

Earlier this week, Madison’s MSAD 59 board decided to uphold its September decision to keep mask requirements for students and staff. The board had previously opted to have a mask-optional policy.

In nearby Anson-based Regional School Unit 74, district officials have taken a different approach. Rather than a mask mandate for all district schools, the district has adopted a color-coded system, and masking is only implemented in schools that have two or more active cases of COVID-19 within a 14-day period.

RSU 74 serves the towns of Anson, Embden, New Portland, North Anson and Solon.

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