CAMDEN – “You are not a health board,” Sue Grace of Rockport told school board members Aug. 24. “Who gives you the right to mandate masks for children?”

Grace stood before a joint meeting of the Five-Town CSD and SAD 28 Boards after Superintendent Maria Libby had outlined plans for keeping students safe and healthy in schools. The plan calls for universal masking indoors except during masking breaks and meals, which would then have social distancing. Some COVID testing for students involved in activities and sports and social distancing of three feet where possible will also be required.

The schools are not requiring vaccines for staff or students at this point, she said.

Grace argued it should be a parent’s decision whether a child wears a mask to school. The sentiment is being echoed by a small group of parents in Appleton along with an Appleton School Board member.

The Appleton School Board voted 2-1, with Stephen Wadsworth opposed, to adopt the plan put forth by the school’s Health and Safety Team. That plan includes a mandate for universal indoor masking.

Wadsworth said he is not opposed to masking in schools, but he believes it should be a parent’s decision.

During a “Q&A” meeting on the issue Wednesday, Aug. 25, at the Appleton School about three couples, according to Wadsworth, turned in paperwork saying they were removing their children from the school. Union 69 Superintendent Kate Clark confirmed that some parents said they were removing their children from the school over the masking issue.

Home schooling and sending the students to private Christian schools in the area were mentioned as alternatives.

Rich Lowell, the new head of Pen Bay Christian School in Rockland confirmed Aug. 26 that there is no mask requirement planned right now as the beginning of the new school year approaches. He said if students or parents are more comfortable wearing a mask, it is not discouraged. He did not rule out this policy changing at some point. “It’s not something we’re considering right now,” he said.

Clark said she held the meeting in Appleton to provide the parents and community members with a chance to ask questions and talk about the issue and added that debate is good.

Some of the rhetoric thrown around in meetings on the issue has become quite heated, however.

Grace argued the vaccine, which is not even being required by the Camden schools, is an experiment and she cited the “Nuremberg Code,” in which authorities determined in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust that human subjects must give their consent for experimentation.

This has become a talking point for those opposed to mandatory vaccines and masking policies. During a protest at the State House in August, State Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, compared Gov. Janet Mills requiring health workers to be vaccinated to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, according to a report from Steve Mistler of Maine Public Radio.

Grace also argued that suicides are on the rise. “We need to stop watching fake news,” she said.

“Start your day off with God,” she said. “At least say the Pledge of Allegiance.”

She and Wadsworth downplayed the threat from COVID.

Wadsworth said he talked to someone who was involved with digging the graves for Knox, Lincoln and another county to the north, and this person did not report any graves for victims of COVID. Asked who this person was or what organization or cemetery they were affiliated with, Wadsworth said he did not know.

Since the pandemic began, 1,300 Knox County residents have been diagnosed with the virus, 37 were admitted to hospitals and seven died, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Aug. 26. “…Maine has recorded 74,699 cases of COVID-19, and 926 deaths,” according to the Portland Press Herald.

The Camden area school boards approved the plan for universal indoor masking.

Libby said the school was planning to collect student data concerning vaccinations, but said the state is now going to do that instead and provide reports by zip code. She said the governor could mandate vaccines for school staff, and the school could require it as an employer, but she added that has not happened so far anywhere in Maine.

“I’ve had employees express discomfort working with people who are not vaccinated,” Libby said. “…We are not talking about that. I don’t desire to be the first district to require vaccinations. It would make my life a lot easier if the governor required vaccinations.”

“People are making their own choices and we’ll see how it goes,” she said.

Wearing the masks is actually less disruptive to the system than having to social distance by a full six feet, according to the superintendent. Libby said the plan is to do three feet when possible. Students have adapted more quickly to masks than adults for the most part.

Remote learning will not be as extensive as last year according to the new plan. She said parents to not have a remote option in the same way they did before, which put strain on the staff in terms of creating separate plans for remote students.

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