FARMINGTON — Mt. Blue School District administrators Tuesday proposed COVID-19 guidelines for winter athletics, including universal masking for indoor sports, except during competitions, and optional masking for outdoor events.

The policy will be finalized and acted on at the board’s Nov. 23 meeting.

The draft touches upon multiple aspects of COVID-19 safety guidelines. They were written and presented by administrators, including Regional School Unit 9 Superintendent Chris Elkingtonhigh school Athletic Director Chad Brackett and middle school Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Katherine Duchesne.

For indoor sports, universal masking would be required for all coaches, referees and spectators. Athletes would be required to wear masks at all points — including on the bus and in the locker rooms — except when in competition or actively participating in the sport.

For outdoor sports, universal masking is optional unless indoors, for example, in a ski lodge or locker room.

All athletes and coaches are required to participate in RSU 9’s weekly pool testing. Students who miss their pool testing date will not be allowed to participate in practice or competition until they reschedule the test with their coach.

The number of spectators for indoor sporting events would be limited to four family/group members per athlete and seated in a pod. In addition, a limited number of students at high school games would be admitted depending on the current space limitations.

The policy notes that “contests will be streamed whenever possible by Mt. Blue TV and Mt. Blue Athletics.”

There are no spectator limitations for outdoor sports.

Vaccinations for student athletes participating in wrestling are required, which is in accordance with the Maine Principals’ Association’s wrestling-specific vaccine mandate. Vaccinations for all other student-athletes are highly-recommended, but not required.

The guidelines may vary for away games or tournaments in districts with differing policies. In that case, Mt. Blue teams are required to follow those guidelines and could be barred from playing if a team does not, the policy states.

During discussion, Director Kirk Doyle raised concerns about the different masking policies in school versus sporting activities, which he said speaks to “frustration from some of our people (in the community) about consistency.”

“(There are) a lot of things that don’t make sense to me from consistency standpoint,” Doyle said. “The fact that there’s so much pushback about mask mandates in schools but then on the basketball court where you’re going to be huffing and puffing, no mask is required . . . we could get some substantial pushback.”

In response, Elkington noted that these concerns were taken into account but ultimately, no masks while actively participating in sports would be the right decision. It’s because athletes could go through at least five masks that get wet with sweat and germs. More so, they would be touching these masks and then touching the equipment.

Doyle said he didn’t “disagree” with this conclusion but the policy could be “opening ourselves up for some accusations of ‘we don’t have a consistent general philosophy of what will happen by not wearing masks in a group.'”

Doyle also raised concerns about the audience limitations when, at Tuesday’s board meeting, directors and audience members were sitting closer together than the proposed policy’s spectator guidelines.

Elkington’s first point was it’s a lot easier to keep track of and contact trace at a board meeting where most of the audience members are known, as opposed to tracking the names of “300 people in a gym.” The draft policy calls for the athlete’s four spectators to register with their names on the tickets, he said.

“If we said it would be several hundred (spectators), it would be very difficult for us to (track) . . . we would have no real control over knowing who could be there,” he said.

It led to his second point: staffing shortages are so severe that administrators are concerned about finding enough staff to keep track of the 60 spectators allowed under the policy.

“I understand what you’re saying, but there is a reality that we can’t get (staff) to go and do things now. The larger we make the group the more difficult it will be for us,” he said. “If we keep asking them to do more, we just don’t have people to do it.”

The district has “reached capacity” with the many other adaptations administrators and staff have had to make to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, he said.

The board will act on the guidelines at its next meeting. In that time, there will be a winter athletics meeting with parents of student athletes to discuss the policies and express their opinions.

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