The Regional School Unit 1 board voted 6-1 Monday to approve the district’s new COVID-19 policy, which includes mandatory universal masking, reversing its previous decision to encourage, but not require, face masks.

RSU 1 , which encompass Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich, will require students to wear a face mask while indoors, keep three feet apart and wash their hands frequently, according to Superintendent Patrick Manuel.

Face masks are also mandatory while on buses, but not outdoors. Parents will also need to continue checking their child for  COVID-19 symptoms each morning before school. If a child displays symptoms, they should be kept home.

“I think all of us expect and hope that these are interim measures,” said Manuel. “This is not something forever. We’re going to revisit and review it, but we feel this gives us the best chance to start school safely and try to keep all our students and stuff in-person 100% of the time.”

Board member Anita Brown was the only board member who voted against mandating universal masking.

“I feel strongly that unless and until the numbers show a need for a mandate by the CDC or Department of Education, it should remain up to parents and individuals to make an informed decision for themselves,” said Brown. “I want to be clear on not standing for or against wearing a mask at this time or any other. I’ve been wearing a mask because I know it’s comforting to those around me and I know that I have a role to play in protecting those around me.”


Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Spokesman Robert Long said that “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.

About 10 community members attended the meeting in person, fewer than the roughly 35 who an Aug. 16 meeting on the subject. Close to 70 watched the meeting online. Of the four people who addressed the board Monday, none advocated for universal masking.

Board Chairperson Stephen August said 23 people submitted a written public comment prior to the meeting, 18 of which were in favor of mandating masks indoors.

Morse freshman Allie Benoit wrote to the board urging them to make masks mandatory indoors for everyone except those with a medical condition like asthma or mental health disorder like anxiety “that make wearing masks more dangerous and detrimental to their health than the actual virus itself.”

“I believe not wearing a mask is only reckless and irresponsible by putting yourself in danger, but also selfishly partaking in infecting and killing the ones around you,” Benoit wrote. “Even with the most recent CDC recommendations for people to wear masks indoors, it seems like no one is taking these recommendations made by health professionals seriously.”


In the Aug. 16 meeting, community members clashed over whether to make masks mandatory for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status.  Annie Sarbanis, a mother of five RSU 1 students who said she previously had COVID-19, argued wearing a face mask for hours on end gave her children headaches, face rashes and respiratory issues, among other symptoms.

Pediatrician and RSU 1 parent Dr. Amina Hanna, who has been advising the district during the pandemic, argued masks give children another layer of defense against COVID-19 and the newer, more transmissible delta variant.

Wearing a mask also reduces the likelihood that a student would need to quarantine if they’re found to be a close contact of someone who later tests positive for COVID-19, which would further interrupt their education.

“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 last week.

Aside from masks keeping students from needing to isolate, Hanna said they’re an important measure in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 as the state watches COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise.

“We’re seeing kids who are sick and kids admitted to critical care,” said said Hanna. “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.”


RSU 1’s COVID-19 plan also includes pooled testing, 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.

Joseph said families will be asked whether they’d like to opt into the pooled testing program, which will begin Sept. 13.

Although just under 74% of eligible Sagadahoc County residents were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, only about 58% of Sagadahoc County residents ages 12-19 have gotten the vaccine, according to state data.

Since March 2020, 1,531 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 12 have died, according to the Maine CDC. Statewide, 74,022 Mainers have tested positive since March 2020 and 924 have died as of Tuesday.

Children ages 18 and under accounted for about 17% of COVID-19 cases reported in Maine, and 50 children had been hospitalized because of it, as of August 10, according to the Maine CDC.

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