Masks will be optional in Regional School Unit 5 beginning Wednesday.

The vote to stop the face covering mandate was made unanimously at a special board of directors meeting on Friday. The decision comes in light of declining COVID-19 cases statewide and an updated, mask-optional recommendation for schools from Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention set to kick in Wednesday.

RSU 5 serves Freeport, Pownal and Durham. For the current school year, the indoor mask mandate was first enacted by the board on Aug. 25, 2021.

The decision comes at a time of high tensions over mask wearing within the RSU 5 community.

On Feb. 18, The Times Record reported that a RSU 5 board meeting was almost adjourned early because parents speaking out against the mask mandate were yelling and interrupting.

On March 1, The Times Record reported that a group of students and parents held a demonstration outside of two RSU 5 schools to protest the mask mandate.


Approximately 16 people addressed the school board at Friday’s meeting – expressing a range of opinions on masking.

Freeport High School senior Nikolas O’Connor thanked the school’s staff for its work through COVID-19 and asked the board to continue the mask mandate until the start of spring. He pushed back against those who participated in Tuesday’s demonstration.

“I was expecting an anti-war protest because of the tragedies that Ukraine has been facing, but to my surprise it was about masks,” O’Connor said. “I was shocked. It’s crazy that this is the emergency at hand and not those losing everything that they have. One of my close friends told me she was harassed by a kid that she said looked maybe seven, and some adults, while walking from the parking lot because she was wearing a mask.”

The majority — 13 people — spoke in favor of going mask optional. Common sentiment included a rejection toward the efficacy of mask wearing, concerns that masking has a psychological impact on children, complaints that students would come home wearing dirty masks and a desire for personal choice.

“I understand my medical history, I understand my children’s medical history and I’m here to ask for my ability to choose what is best for my children, my family and myself,” said Durham resident and parent Michelle Allen.

Durham resident and parent Nathan Ledger said that his daughter no longer sees the point in smiling due to masking.


“For 2 1/2 years, I’ve brought my children everywhere that I wanted to go without a mask because that was my choice, call me any name you want, defiant or whatever, but that’s what we did,” Ledger said. “And for two and a half years, my child has lived a life without this paper on her face and she wonders why the only place, the only place, she has to wear one is school.”

Between Feb. 25 and March 5, 22 positive cases of COVID-19 were reported in RSU 5. A total of 712 cases have been reported for this school year, and the highest number of cases — 122 — came the week of Jan. 21.

“In the past month, conversations have become elevated in our district and our students have not always seen the adults on both sides of this issue modeling our core values of empathy and understanding. This saddens me,” RSU 5 Superintendent Becky Foley said in a statement Friday night. “These core values of respect and understanding need to guide our actions and words each and every day not only in the best of times, but also during difficult ones.”

RSU 5 is not the only district to make the switch to mask optional.

On Tuesday, The Times Record reported that the Topsham-area school district superintendent announced a recommendation to go mask-optional beginning March 11. On Feb. 28, the Bath-area school board voted unanimously to make face masks optional beginning March 14.

The Brunswick School Department school board plans to vote March 9 on whether to make masks optional.

All 16 Maine counties were classified to be at medium risk for infection of COVID-19 on Thursday, according to a report by The Portland Press Herald. The change from high or substantial to medium risk means that indoor masking is no longer universally recommended by the CDC.

According to the US CDC, masks and respirators “can provide different levels of protection depending on the type of mask and how they are used. 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.”

Statewide, 230,720 cases of COVID-19 and 2,136 deaths have been reported by the Maine CDC since the beginning of the pandemic.

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