ROCKLAND — The Regional School Unit 13 Board unanimously approved Thursday evening a mask policy after receiving an upbeat assessment on the COVID-19 situation from a local infection disease specialist.

The board met via Zoom Oct.7. The meeting was changed to virtual after a statewide anti-vaccination, anti-mask group urged its members from across the state to attend the originally planned in-person meeting.

The board only is required to allow residents of the district to speak at meetings.

Fifty people attended the Zoom meeting but there was only one Owls Head resident who spoke up about the mask policy, an opponent to requiring masks.

At the start of the meeting, Dr. Cheryl A. Liechty, M.D., of Pen Bay Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease discussed the issues.

Dr. Liechty said students in Knox County last year attended school more than most places across the country. She acknowledged that there was not an expectation that there would be a large number of cases in the community timed for the beginning of the current school year which did occur.

She said, however, the high vaccination rate amount the Knox County population and particularly the RSU 13 staff helped control the situation in the schools.

She said 75% of positive cases are among people who are not vaccinated.

“I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr.Liechty said about the pandemic.

The infectious disease specialist also dispelled the myths raised by opponents of masks, saying wearing them does not spread infections and they do not deprive wearers of oxygen.

Maria Devery of Owls Head spoke during the public comment session of the meeting and said she would not reiterate her opposition to masks, but said most of the doctors locally are corporate doctors under MaineHealth who will tow the company line.

RSU 13 Board Chair Loren Andrews said he too was optimistic about the COVID-19 situation. He said that soon, younger children are expected to be able to receive the vaccine, and that for parents who agree to vaccinate their children, that will improve the situation.

Superintendent John McDonald was prepared last month to recommend a more stringent mask policy, but when it was publicized in the Courier-Gazette, Liechty contacted the superintendent to advise him the additional steps were not necessary, and that the current standard operating procedure was sufficient.

The proposed changes would require masks outdoors during recesses, require a vaccinated person to isolate if there was a positive case in their home and require anyone who sat within six feet in a classroom of a positive case to isolate. He considered the additional steps because of increasing cases in the schools and community.

The superintendent noted that last year, there were about 100 children who were homeschooled at some point. That is now down to about 50, he said.

The board agreed to create an additional school nurse position with federal funds.

In other action, the board voted to accept the resignation of Veronica Race, a transitional first-grade teacher at the South School, effective Oct. 13.

The following is the wording of the mask policy approved Oct. 7:

“Regional School Unit 13 believes that the health and safety of or students, staff and community members is of paramount importance. Therefore, the Board of Directors requires that all persons utilizing, or entering any our facilities, or our bus or van transportation, adhere to the following guidelines regarding the use of face coverings or masks, according to Maine Department of Education, Maine Center of Disease Control and the RSU 13 Health Protocols standards described below.

“Failure to do so will result in persons being denied entry to our facilities and van or bus transportation and/or the removal of persons from our facilities. This policy will remain in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 Pandemic, or until such time as the RSU 13 Board of Directors either suspends or rescinds this policy.

“The Board of Directors authorizes the Superintendent to make adjustments to the masking requirements in accordance with County transmission designations and Maine Center for Disease Control recommendations. In such instances, the Superintendent shall notify the Board and the public of such changes within three (3) business days.

“Face Coverings

“Face coverings for staff and students are required at all times (including buses) with the exception of eating with six-foot distancing, outdoor recess when students are able to physically distance by six feet, and during brief “mask breaks” between class periods or transitions when students can be at least six feet apart.

“For staff only: If PreK-12 students are not present in the building, immediate area or on transportation, vaccinated staff may remove their face covering. Staff will be required to wear a mask in staff gatherings indoors if 6-footdistancing cannot be maintained. The use of face coverings during athletic practices or events must follow the Maine Principals Association, Maine Center for Disease Control and Maine Department of Education guidance for those activities.

“Face coverings must cover your nose and mouth, and fit snugly against the sides of your face. Cloth face coverings must have multiple layers of cloth. Gaiters, bandannas and similar, one layer coverings are disallowed, as well as masks fitted with a valve. Staff and students who require face coverings shall upon request be provided appropriate face coverings by Regional School Unit 13.

“For additional information about face coverings, review U.S. CDC guidance on how to make cloth face coverings, wear and remove masks/face coverings and wash cloth face coverings.

“Updated Aug. 19,2020: Face shields may be an option for those students with documented medical, behavioral or other challenges who are unable to wear face coverings. Exceptions will be made for those for whom it is not possible due to medical conditions, disability impact or health or safety factors. Face shields worn in place of a face covering must extend below the chin and back to the ears.

“Updated Aug. 19, 2020: Additional accommodations may be made for students with disabilities who need access to a service provider under special conditions and in an isolated environment. Face shields may be an option for staff who cannot wear a face covering due to documented medical or other health reasons. Face shields worn in place of a face covering must extend below the chin and back to the ears.

“Updated Aug. 19, 2020: Masks/face coverings and face shields if applicable should be provided by the student/family, but extra masks will be made available by the school for students who need them. Cloth masks should be washed daily. Disposable masks should be changed daily.
Additional safety precautions are required for school nurses and/or any staff supporting students in close proximity, when distance is not possible, or when students require physical assistance. These precautions will at a minimum include eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles) and a mask/face covering. Appropriate PPE shall be provided to school nurses by Regional School Unit 13.

“Violations of this Policy

“Students who willfully disregard or refuse to wear proper face coverings in accordance with this policy shall be subject to progressive disciplinary action up to and including, suspension, extended suspension or expulsion according to Policies JKD, Suspension of a Student and JK-R Administrative Procedure for Expulsion of Students.

Staff who willfully disregard or refuse to wear proper face coverings will be subject to progressive discipline up to and including termination of employment according to the terms of The Collective Bargaining Agreement, Article 2 E for Teaching staff and Article 4 A for Education Support Professionals.”