CAMDEN — The SAD 28 board discussed at length whether to require athletes participating in indoor sports and students performing on stage to wear masks, or, even have vaccines, during the Wednesday, Nov. 17 meeting.

The discussion started when Superintendent Maria Libby outlined her policy, which would not require masking while in play. At all other times, students and spectators would be required to wear masks.

One exception would be when playing another school that does require the masking.

“As of late, I have been involved in a lot of statewide meetings about COVID and schools,” she said. “…We face a very complex situation around COVID. Transmission levels remain high in the state despite relatively high vaccination levels. Knox County is one of the lowest transmissions rates and highest vaccination rates in the state. The majority of hospitalizations are unvaccinated adults.”

She said there are a lot of conflicting views of the science and the politics.

“Meanwhile, students are suffering,” she said. “Anti-social behaviors have escalated. Mental health issues are at an all-time high.”

She questioned, “What are the off-ramps to some of these safety measures in schools? What percentage of community vaccination warrants removing masking?”

The schools are stuck in limbo while various experts and entities argue about these matters, including the Maine Principals Association.

“I am leaning toward removing some restrictions, especially given the availability of vaccines for all school-aged students,” she said. “Students have paid a high price in terms of their educational experience, and I believe the time is right around the corner to begin pulling back on some restrictions to bring more normalcy to the lives of students. The social/emotional — and consequently academic — costs outweigh the relatively low risks of COVID for students.”

This prompted debate among members of the school board, and with some in the audience, including, educators, coaches and people who came to make public comments.

One of the key concerns raised was this means the school district would be out of step with CDC recommendations.

Sarah Welch of Camden said she took issue with Libby saying COVID was not making kids that ill. She argued they could still infect other members of the family who may be more vulnerable.

The member of the public argued for both masking and vaccine requirements.

Libby said she was making the best decision she could, having spent a great deal of time researching the issues, but she welcomed the school board to make its own decision and give her guidance.

A motion was made to direct students to have vaccines to play indoor sports and performing arts or wear a mask. A split board voted this down.

A second motion was made to require masks while participating in these activities. This motion received a tie vote of 4-4, which means it does not pass.

For the time being, Libby’s policy remains.

In other business, the board talked about the “status quo” budget, which is a look at the budget if the status quo is maintained with just the increases from contracts. The initial increase looked to be two-point-four-eight percent, but it was noted the budget increase would likely have to be more than that.

Energy costs are up, as are liability costs for the district.

In addition, the geothermal system for the elementary school is “busted.” The school district will need to install propane boilers to provide heat, and the expected cost is up to $115,000.

The board agreed by consensus to make a four percent increase to its target. The conversation is preliminary. The budget will not come to the board for review until February.

It was also noted the school calendar changes slightly, due to Juneteenth.

“Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed,” according to History.com. “The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday. On June 17, 2021, it officially became a federal holiday.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Gary Heald told the school board he was very concerned that critical race theory was being taught in the schools. The board said it was not.