Staff members in RSU 21 have voluntarily reported their COVID-19 vaccination status and the district’s students and employees are engaged in pool testing. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNK – Regional School Unit 21 reports that as of Sept. 16, nearly 92 percent of employees in the district’s six schools have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

While school staff vaccinations are currently voluntary, that is expected to change. The Maine Department of Labor announced on Sept. 17 that its federal counterpart informed the state that a forthcoming COVID-19 vaccination requirement will apply to public sector employers in Maine, including state, county, and municipal governments, and public school systems.

Guidelines on mandatory vaccines or weekly testing are expected to be announced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Under a 2015 agreement, Maine is required to adopt and enforce for public employers all of OSHAs occupational safety and health standards.

As of Sept. 20, 75.5 of school staff statewide is fully vaccinated, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control.

RSU 21 employees voluntarily reported their COVID-19 vaccination status in an online survey. Some did not reply, while others were not yet vaccinated as of Sept. 16, said Communications Coordinator Jennifer Hass.  The district’s Central Office staff and other employees in RSU 21 reported a vaccination rate of nearly 47 percent, resulting in an average for all employees district-wide of 81 percent

Middle School of the Kennebunks staff vaccination rate was 97.3 percent; Kennebunk Elementary school at 97.2 percent, Kennebunk High School at 94.3 percent, Sea Road School, 86.5 percent; Kennebunkport Consolidated School, 81.3 percent, and Mildred L. Day School, which reopened after a two-week hiatus from in-person learning due to coronavirus, at 81.1 percent as of Sept. 16.

“This protects our whole school community,” said RSU 21 Superintendent Terri Cooper. “We have and will continue to encourage employees, as well as students 12 and older, to get vaccinated. We are aiming for 100 percent.”

About 62 percent of the RSU 21 community, including students and employees, have signed up for pool testing, where test samples from groups of individuals are pooled together for testing. If there is a positive result, those in the group are tested individually. Pool testing is a measure school districts can take in their quest to keep COVID-19 away.

The first week of pool testing went well, according to school officials.

Middle School of the Kennebunks School Nurse Amy Murphy, left, and Nurse Devora Wharton with Concentric, the company engaged in pool testing, assisted with collecting samples during the first week of testing Courtesy photo/RSU 21

“We told our students we wanted them to paint the inside of their nose with the swab, moving around in four circles,” said Kennebunkport Consolidated School nurse Rachel Protasewich. ” We counted together in each nostril. It was really easy, and everyone did great.”

There were 163 testing pools in the first week and three positive pools, according to Cooper.

Maine Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Deveaux said about 25 percent of Maine school districts were engaged in pool testing. As of Sept. 16, she said 2,349 pools had been conducted, resulting in 61 positive pools.

Deveaux said DOE continues to receive more enrollments in pooled testing every day.

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