Masks will now be required for students and staff in all Brunswick school buildings regardless of vaccination status for the upcoming academic year.

The mask mandate was included in the school department’s broader reopening plan, which the school board approved in an 8-1 vote on Wednesday.

School Board Chair William Thompson cast the only dissenting vote, saying he thinks the mask should be optional.

“We have high school students who are 100% eligible to be vaccinated, they should be vaccinated, teachers should be vaccinated. I don’t see why they should be required at the high school given the opportunity to be vaccinated, it’s free and readily available,” Thompson said. “I think the idea that kids get to be out on the playground running all over each other and then sitting at their desk separated and having to wear masks doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either.”

School Board member Elizabeth Sokoloff spoke in favor of the masking rules before the vote.

“When you have a choice that you make that affects other people around you, that’s not a choice that should be left up to individuals,” Sokoloff said, adding that she urges anyone who is not happy with the mandate to rethink their decision to vaccinate eligible family members.

“I believe that we owed our kids better, as grown-ups, and I believe this is the failure of grown-ups that we are sitting here having this conversation right now,” she said.

The uptick in Maine COVID-19 cases is attributed to the delta variant, a more-contagious strain of the virus. The current Maine CDC guidelines align with the federal recommendation that all students, staff, teachers and visitors wear a mask while indoors in schools.

Brunswick School Physician Dr. Alyssa Goodwin agreed that following the recommended guideline for a masking requirement was the best decision.

“Delta has become a game changer in our return to school planning,” Goodwin said, noting the national rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases over the last month from 12,000 cases on July 1 to 121,500 cases on Aug. 12.

The board and administration is planning to continue to monitor the masking and reopening guidelines. An update and a possible vote on reopening plan changes is scheduled for Oct. 13.

In terms of social distancing, the department will strive to maintain three feet as much as possible while indoors. Lunch schedules will be created to minimize student numbers and maximize social distancing. Students can remove masks only to eat.

Like other school districts, masking has proven to be a divisive topic among parents in Brunswick.

During a listening session on Aug. 4, parents spoke on both sides of the issue, although only one parent spoke during Wednesday’s public comment

The first day of school in Brunswick for pre-K through grade 10 is Aug. 30 and Aug. 31 for 11-12 grade. Students will be returning for five-days-a-week, in-person learning. Masks will be available to the school community for free and are mandatory on buses but not required outdoors.

Outdoor learning will continue to be encouraged, but a 100% remote learning option will not be offered. All facilities will be cleaned nightly and pooled testing will be optional per student.

As of Thursday, 71 total cases of COVID-19 have been reported at Brunswick School Department, all of which have recovered.

According to the Maine CDC, 70.1% of Maine residents have received a final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of Thursday, the CDC estimates that 99% of eligible Brunswick residents are vaccinated.

73,263 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in total statewide, alongside 921 deaths. In Cumberland County, 18,000 have been reported, with 209 deaths.

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