UNION — A motion to prevent the cancellation of activities such as football, drama and chorus did not pass at Regional School Unit 40’s Board of Directors’ Sept. 2 meeting.

The district did not move to cancel any of these activities, but did hear heartfelt testimonials from students and parents regarding potential cancellation, mandated masks and mandated vaccines.

Part of the discussion revolved around amounts of risk facing students, and how much of that risk parents and the school district should be responsible for.

Board member Melvin Williams, a representative from Waldoboro, said life is unpredictable, and no one knows when they will die.

Williams compared COVID-19 to a rabies outbreak from when he was a child, which authorities were not able to control.

“Let herd immunity take care of it,” Williams said. “If you don’t survive, it’s your fault.”

Board member Brooke Simmons from Friendship said all activities come with risk. “There’s a risk walking down the street,” she said. Just because an activity is high risk does not mean it should be cancelled.

If transmission rates are that high, Simmons said, students will be returning to virtual learning anyway.

Simmons said she was worried about the mental health of students, and the possibility of students quitting sports due to an uncertain future.

Medomak Valley High School football coach Ryan Snell said the student athletes just wanted the chance to play. They know there may not be a full season of games due to COVID-19, and they know some games this weekend have already been cancelled.

Through football, Snell said, the students are motivated to maintain good grades and attendance. They are under adult supervision during practice and games.

“We’re trying to do things above and beyond because football means a lot to these kids,” Snell said. Each member of the team has their own water bottle and they all wear masks.

Snell further said other schools he had spoken with were not discussing cancelling football, and MVHS players just wanted the same chance that other schools were having.

“We are doing everything we possibly can to keep these kids safe,” Snell said. “Just give us that chance to play.”

At the previous board meeting, Superintendent Steve Nolan discussed the guidance from the United States Center for Disease Control, which recommends cancelling high-risk activities such as football when transmission rates of COVID-19 are high.

Knox County currently is classified as a high level of transmission, as well as nine other counties in Maine. Lincoln County was listed at a substantial level at the time of the meeting.

Nolan clarified that other activities such as chorus and drama were also classified as high-risk by the U.S. CDC.

One way to avoid cancelling these activities is to ensure all participants were vaccinated.

Recent guidance from the Maine Principal’s Association did not match with the U.S. CDC, though.

Because of this, Nolan said he was not going to take any action at this time, and would seek clarification on how to safely move forward.

“I am concerned about the safety of our students and our staff,” Nolan said.

Nolan later clarified that this decision was not just about football, but about taking the steps to make sure staff and students are safe.

“It’s about trying to take the steps to keep our schools open and limit the transmission of COVID,” he said.

Simmons made a motion to prevent Nolan from cancelling football before the next board of directors meeting, which transitioned to preventing the cancellation of all high-risk activities.

Board member Erik Amundsen questioned the need for such a motion, as Nolan already said he was not acting on these activities yet.

Amundsen said he loved football, but he was concerned the board was not looking at the whole picture.

While children may not get very sick from COVID-19, Amundsen said they could transmit the virus to someone else, such as school staff, who would. “It’s more than just the students,” he added.

Board member Matt Speno of Union asked why the board was trying to change guidance from medical professionals who had studied the data to classify these specific activities as high-risk.

Dan Swindler, a resident of Warren, thanked Nolan for providing sound guidance based on science.

Swindler said there was no question that extracurricular activities were important, but people had died from COVID-19.

He asked the board to move forward using facts and science in the interest of everyone they represent.

The motion ultimately did not pass, with 5 yes votes and 9 no votes.

Each board representative is assigned a weighted total, so the final count was 326 yes to 550 no.

Rachel Bowman of Friendship later told the board she was disheartened by the votes tonight.

Bowman encouraged the board to think on their votes, and wondered if those who voted no had participated in sports.

If you look at the statistics, Bowman said, sports keep students from engaging in partying and drinking.

The next RSU 40 board of directors meeting is Thursday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. at the central office in Union.

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