The RSU 1 school board reviewed its previous vote to not require face masks indoors this upcoming academic year during a special meeting Monday. The board is slated to make a decision on the matter during its next meeting on August 23. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Regional School Unit 1 families are split as the school board reevaluates its previous decision not to require masks to be worn in schools amid a fresh surge in COVID-19 brought on by the highly contagious delta variant.

About 35 people attended the meeting in person, while more watched on livestream. Of the 17 people who spoke to the board Monday, eight advocated for the board to make masks mandatory for everyone while indoors, regardless of vaccination status, while nine asked the board to keep its prior vote to make masks optional.

School Board Chair Stephen August said 45 people submitted written public comments to the board before the meeting, 37 of which called for a universal masking, while eight supported optional masking.

According to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Spokesman Robert Long, “Maine CDC encourages school administrators throughout Maine to use the authority provided to them by Maine law to require universal mask use in schools, as recommended by the U.S. CDC.”

Long said that recommendation applies to schools in all counties in Maine.


Face masks have played a key role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 because the disease spreads through the respiratory droplets an infected person releases when they cough, sneeze, speak or breathe. Wearing a face mask contains the droplets, preventing them from becoming airborne and infecting others, according to the CDC.

Dr. Suzanne Carr, a family physician at Mid Coast Hospital and RSU 1 parent, spoke in favor of adopting a universal masking policy Monday because masks help prevent COVID-19 from spreading both within a school and throughout the community.

“Our kids who can’t be vaccinated may be going home to an immunocompromised parent, grandparent or guardian and we have an obligation as part of the community to protect all of those people,” said Carr.

Regina Martin, parent to three Morse High School students and a former substitute teacher for the district, stepped up to the microphone next and asked the board to require masks indoors to protect people like her immunocompromised 18-month-old son. She compared taking the precaution of requiring everyone to wear a mask to “taking peanut butter out of the cafeteria to protect one child with a peanut allergy.”

Dr. Amina Hanna, a pediatrician at Mid Coast Hospital and RSU 1 parent who has been guiding the district through the COVID-19 pandemic, advised the board to adopt a universal masking policy to start the school year.

Although masks aren’t fun for children to wear, Hanna said they protect students from both getting infected by COVID-19 and needing to quarantine if they’re identified as a close contact. In either situation, a student would need to isolate themselves, which would keep them away from their support system of peers, teachers and counselors, posing a greater risk to their mental health.


“It’s a way to create a safe physical environment for our kids while also giving them that mental health support that they desperately need after this last year of disruptions,” Hanna said of masks.

Despite Hanna’s recommendations, some parents spoke in opposition of masks.

RSU 1 parent Julie Damon encouraged parents advocating for a mask requirement to “please send your kid to school in a mask,” but allow each family to make the decision for themselves.

“I’m not going to criticize you,” said Damon. “I’m not going to call you a bad parent the way I’ve been criticized for not having masks, but I rise above that because it’s called having a choice. If you’re that afraid, don’t send your kid to school.”

Annie Sarbanis, mother of five RSU 1 students and a cancer patient who previously had COVID-19, asked the board not to require universal masking because her children complained of headaches, anxiety and face rashes, among other symptoms, when they were forced to wear them in school last year.

The American Migraine Foundation acknowledged that some people complained of headaches while wearing a face mask, but assured “These headaches are not due to lack of oxygen or a buildup of carbon dioxide.”


“Some people develop compression headaches from the tight bands that secure the mask to their heads,” the foundation wrote on its website. “Others may develop migraine because they are not keeping well hydrated or are missing meals while wearing their masks.”

Sarbanis also said she worries prolonged mask-wearing changes children’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, but this theory has been dismissed by medical organizations including but not limited to the CDC, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, John Hopkins Children’s Hospital and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In an Aug. 5, 2021 report in the American Academy of Pediatrics, Drs. Kimberly Dickinson and Theresa Guilbert wrote face masks are made of breathable material that don’t hinder the amount of oxygen someone can take in while wearing one.

“There have been false reports that face masks can lead to carbon dioxide poisoning (known as hypercapnia) from re-breathing the air we normally breathe out,” wrote Dickinson and Guilbert, both pediatric pulmonary experts. “But this is not true. Carbon dioxide molecules are very tiny, even smaller than respiratory droplets. They cannot be trapped by breathable materials like cloth or disposable masks.”

In addition to protecting students from missing school, Hanna said wearing face masks while indoors mitigates the potential transmission of COVID-19 and the more transmissible delta variant, which health professionals are seeing increasingly more of state and nationwide.

“We’ve had 28 new cases in Sagadahoc County in the past week and if you look at the trajectory of infections and hospitalizations in our state, you can see the steady upward marching of the numbers, and that’s not just in adults,” said Hanna. “We’re seeing kids who are sick and kids admitted to critical care. The delta variant has me worried, but despite that worry, I feel we can safely have kids back in school. We can do this, but we need to use some of the strategies from last year that we know work.”


When the board voted 5-2 not to require masks on June 28, Maine’s 7-day new case average stood at 20, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Sunday, the state’s 7-day new case average had jumped to 175.7.

August agreed with Hanna and told those in attendance the board’s united goal is ensuring RSU 1 students can attend school full-time and in-person unless families opt for fully remote learning for a medical reason. Assistant Superintendent Katie Joseph said 20 students have opted for full remote learning this year. The district is not offering a part-time in-person and remote instruction option.

In addition to universal masking, Hanna encouraged people to get vaccinated. Though she said the state’s vaccination rates compared to others are good, the rate among eligible children are “not quite where we need to be.”

Joseph said 90% of RSU 1 teachers are vaccinated, but didn’t comment on what percentage of RSU 1 have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Tuesday, about 64% of all Sagadahoc County residents were fully vaccinated, slightly above the statewide average of 62%, according to state data. However, 52.5% of children ages 12-15 were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, and 61.4 of Sagadahoc County residents ages 16-19 were fully vaccinated , according to state data.

Since March 2020, 1,523 people in Sagadahoc County have tested positive for COVID-19 and 12 have died as of Tuesday, according to the Maine CDC. Statewide, 72,896 people have tested positive since March 2020 and 903 Mainers have died.

After an hour of public comment, the board adjourned the meeting and August said the board will vote on the matter during its next meeting on Monday, August 23.

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