Residents of Regional School Unit 9 display signs Tuesday at the board of directors meeting in the Forum at Mt. Blue Campus in Farmington. The board voted to make COVID-19 masking optional across the district. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — The Regional School Unit 9 board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday to make COVID-19 masking optional districtwide, effective immediately.

The new policy comes with a stipulation that gives Superintendent Chris Elkington authorization to implement a universal masking mandate in individual schools and buses “if there is an increase (or) outbreak in cases deemed concerning by Maine Center for Disease Control.”

RSU 9 serves residents of Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Starks, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.

Elkington’s recommendation was based on district, county and state data and recommendations from the Maine CDC and Department of Education in their updated COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedure for schools.

After the motion passed, Elkington said he ultimately chose to recommend a masking-optional policy to the board to continue following the CDC and DOE data and recommendations. He presented data showing a reduction of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the region.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the community level of COVID-19 in Franklin County is medium, the same as the state.


Since the district’s peak of 98 new cases in the week ending Jan. 14, cases have dropped to two the week ending Feb. 25 and to 13 the week ending March 4.

RSU 9’s data review also includes a report from Franklin Memorial Hospital that in the past four weeks, its COVID-19 bed occupancy rate was 15%.

This is a marked change from December and January, when RSU 9’s weekly case count peaked and Franklin County had the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 deaths and second-highest rate of new cases.

Elkington said the masking change is the first phase in the district’s return to normalcy. He said he hopes at the board’s April 12 meeting to present a draft plan for visitors and events to begin May 2, if the county stays at medium status or drops to low.

In the meantime, Elkington said the district will offering fit-tested N95 masks to staff upon request and KN95 masks to staff and students upon request.

In order to minimize harassment, Elkington said the district will instruct principals and guidance counselors to speak with students and help them understand “the importance of showing support and respect for mask choice with classmates.”


More so, the district will consider “negative student-to-student comments” about masking as “bullying or harassment” and discipline with “immediate and age-appropriate consequences,” according to a document handed out at the meeting.

The recommendations made by Elkington and approved by the board include a few other changes:

• A required five days of isolation and additional five days of masking for all students who test positive for COVID-19. Before, students at the middle and high school levels had to isolate for 10 days).

• No more outdoor masking as was required for COVID-19 positive individuals at the elementary level.

• Non-COVID breakfast and lunch expectations for grades six through 12.

The recommendations also uphold other aspects of the standing policy, including:


• No contact tracing.

• Increased cleaning of schools and buses.

• A requirement that students competing in sports participate in pool testing.

• A recommendation that all staff and students participate in pool testing.

• Social distancing during meals and snacks for prekindergarten through fifth grade.

• Increased ventilation via open windows in school and on buses, weather permitting.


• No daytime visitors until May.

Over 50 people attended the first part of Tuesday’s meeting, the most this school year. Attendees brought signs supporting the choice to mask, opposing mandates and “face diapers” and urging the board to “follow the science.”

During the meeting, the board allowed time for public comment, specifically on the change in masking guidelines. Thirteen people spoke, prompting the board to extend its usual 10 minutes allocated for public comment to around 30.

Aside from one, all individuals who addressed the board were explicitly in favor of the masking-optional policy and disagreed with the stipulation that Elkington could reimplement another mandate. They also expressed anger with how the board has handled the COVID-19 pandemic thus far — particularly with the board’s policies for universal masking, quarantining and isolation.

The commenters appeared visibly emotional, some raising their voices while they spoke to the board. A number wore masks below their noses or took them off while speaking.

Chairwoman Carol Coles reminded one woman of the board’s public comment policy after she raised her voice and asked the board for answers to specific questions.

There was barely any discussion among directors when public comment came to a close.

Upon passage of the motion, the audience loudly applauded and gave a standing ovation. A majority removed their masks, as well as all but four directors.

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