Regional School Unit 1 will “strongly recommend,” but not require, that unvaccinated students wear a mask indoors during the upcoming academic year, in line with the most recent guidelines with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a June 11 statement announcing the end of Maine’s civil state of emergency, enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Janet Mills declared the state’s last remaining mask requirement, which only applies to indoor pre-K-12 schools and child care settings, would end the same day. However, schools have the right to still require face coverings, as some private businesses have done.

Maine CDC continues to recommend, though not require, that unvaccinated people – including those under 12 who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine – wear face coverings indoors.

The district school board Monday voted 5-2 not to require masks.

Dr. Amina Hanna, a pediatrician at Mid Coast Hospital who has advised RSU 1 throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, said she recommends anyone who is unvaccinated wear a mask while indoors.

“There are a lot of emotions about having kids return to school in masks,” Hanna told the board. “I have a son in the district and as a parent, I want him to go back to school and have things to feel normal. As a pediatrician, I don’t think we’re at the point where we can recommend that unvaccinated people go back to school unmasked while indoors.”


Hanna based her stance on the relatively low percentage of students ages 12-19 who have received the COVID-19 vaccine thus far and are at risk of contracting the virus.

Although just under 69% of eligible Sagadahoc County residents are vaccinated, only about 40% of Sagadahoc County children ages 12-15 have received a second dose, while 52% of children ages 16-19 are fully vaccinated, according to state data.

Board members disagreed over whether they should require face masks in school when students aren’t required to wear them elsewhere.

“Everywhere else we go, there are no masks,” said board member Jamie Dorr. “I can sit shoulder-to-shoulder with someone at a Red Sox game who may or may not be vaccinated, and kids are showing up to school with a mask on. To me, it doesn’t seem logical.”

“They’re not legally required to go to a Red Sox game or go to the grocery store, but a child is legally required to go to school,” countered board member Jennifer Ritch-Smith. “We’re here to govern the safety of students in school. The comparison is tough to make of why ask them (to wear a mask) here and not ask them someplace else. But, we’re also not a cooperation or sports event; we’re a school.”

Hanna argued that while a students may not need to wear a mask at an outdoor sports event or in a store they’ll be in for only 30 minutes, a school is a unique setting because largely unvaccinated students sit in a classroom close to one another for hours.


Parent Alaine Pinkham, who sits on the Georgetown Central School board, asked the RSU 1 board not to require students to wear masks. She was the only parent to offer public comment on the topic.

“Having my fourth-grader look at me and say ‘Mom, I can’t do this for another year,’ is heartbreaking as a parent,” said Pinkham. “I hope we don’t get to the point where we make distinctions between unvaccinated and vaccinated people. I think that will add some significant tension and put pressure on people to make decisions they aren’t comfortable with.”

Pooled testing authorized

The school board also authorized “pooled testing” for COVID-19 Monday.

Pooled testing is a method of testing many people for COVID-19 at once using fewer resources. In a pooled test samples from multiple people are mixed together into one sample which is then tested using one test. In a school setting, students in a class who opt-into the program would be tested together each week.

The test is anonymous, but if the pooled test comes back positive, further testing would need to be done to determine which student is carrying the virus.

Under the Maine Department of Education guidelines, 30% or more of staff and students would need to agree to be tested for the program to be implemented in a school.


RSU 1 sent a survey to staff and families asking whether they’re interested in adopting the pooled testing. Of the 378 respondents, 65% were in favor of pooled testing, according to RSU 1 Assistant Superintendent Katie Joseph.

Of the 80 staff members who responded to the survey, 84% said they support pooled testing, said Joseph.

Joseph said implementing pooled testing allows schools to not require students to physically distance and if students are identified as close contacts, they don’t have to quarantine because they can be monitored while still attending school in person, making it an attractive option.

“Our goal as we head into the new school year is to find a way to keep our kids in the classroom as much as we can,” agreed Hanna. “Anything we can do to promote that makes sense.”

Joseph said the district plans to hire a testing coordinator to perform the weekly testing, which takes about five to 10 minutes, depending on the age of the students being tested.

With the testing approved for the district, each family will need to opt in or out of participating in the regular testing. If less than 30% of a school’s student body opts out of testing, the school will not offer it, though School Board Chair Steve August said he doubted that would happen in any of the district’s schools.


The pooled testing program is funded by emergency federal funding, according to August, and will pose no immediate cost to the district.

Parent Tim Pratt asked the board to authorize pooled testing to help keep students like his first grader safe. Again, he was the only parents to speak on the matter.

“It seems like a no-brainer from a public safety standpoint to participate in it,” said Pratt. “I work in a higher education institution that had a successful pooled testing program over this past year that helped us identify cases early, stop transmission and helped us remain open for the entire year and have a successful academic year.”

Hanna recommended all students participate in pooled testing, regardless of whether they’re vaccinated, because “from a medical perspective, no vaccine is perfect.”

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