A screenshot of Durham resident Alyssa O’Brien speaking at Wednesday’s Regional School Unit 5 board meeting. Screenshot

Tensions were high at the Freeport-area school board meeting on Wednesday as community members railed against a district-wide mask mandate that was first imposed in August 2020.

A dozen parents, five students and one grandparent, several of whom refused to wear masks, turned out to voice concerns.

Roughly 50 minutes into the meeting, after the public comment period ended and the group had voiced their concerns, one parent interrupted, shouting out, in part, “how about you listen to the parents that are here” and “our kids aren’t wearing masks tomorrow. Send them all home.”

RSU 5 Board Chair Michelle Ritcheson responded, in part: “We’re going to keep going with the agenda. If we continue to have interruptions, unfortunately, we will have to adjourn the meeting and pick it up another day.”

The back-and-forth lasted about seven minutes, portions of which were inaudible. The group then left on its own, and the meeting continued uninterrupted.

Regional School Unit 5 serves the towns of Freeport, Pownal and Durham. For the current school year, the indoor mask mandate was unanimously enacted by the board on Aug. 25, 2021, in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.


Prior to the interruption, many of those that spoke out against the mandate declined the efficacy of masking and raised concerns about the mandate’s impact on the mental health and learning abilities of children.

“These mandates are a joke, it’s about power and control,” said A.J. Fitzpatrick. “It’s not 2020 anymore. There’s no evidence to support masking works, everyone has their head in the sand and is just blindly following directions so that they’re not ostracized by the rest of the pack.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends universal indoor masking for all staff, students and visitors in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Vaccines and masking remain the best means of preventing the spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Masks and respirators “can provide different levels of protection depending on the type of mask and how they are used,” according to the U.S. CDC. “Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.”

On Friday, Regional School Unit 5 Superintendent Becky Foley said that the CDC has signaled to local superintendents that if COVID-19 transmission continues to decline, the agency hopes to reevaluate the current masking recommendation. If that happens, Foley said, she will issue updated guidance to the school board based on those recommendations.

Foley said that the schools did not experience any significant student non-compliance with mask wearing, as the parent suggested, in the days after the meeting.


As of Friday, 690 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Regional School Unit 5 since the beginning of this school year. At its peak, the district had 122 confirmed COVID-19 cases during the week of Jan. 21. Last week, the district reported 19 cases.

Only a few days earlier, on Feb. 15, the Freeport Town Council allowed a month-old, indoor masking requirement applicable to all public spaces to expire.  The decision was made due to the decline in COVID cases, although the U.S. CDC still considers virus transmission rates to be high in every Maine county.

The confrontation at RSU5’s board meeting was reminiscent of a recent meeting of the Topsham-based Maine School Administrative District 75 board.

MSAD 75 Board Chairperson Holly Kopp abruptly adjourned a Feb. 10 meeting within minutes of it starting because four students present in the gallery were unmasked, violating district policy.

Kelly Merrill, whose four children were unmasked at the meeting, said the board overreached, though her children “just weren’t interested in putting them back” after removing their masks.

Kopp has said police will be present at the next MSAD 75 meeting over fears of a confrontation.

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