The Brunswick School Board lifted its mask mandate for pre-K students last week, a change in course after electing not to remove it at its March 9 meeting.

Following a lengthy discussion, board members voted unanimously to eliminate the masking requirement for pre-K students effective March 28. The move brought the district in line with current guidance from the state, which on March 2 recommended districts lift all mask mandates for students in pre-K through high school.

“I think two weeks ago it was sort of stepping into new territory, really not knowing where things were going,” said Dr. Alyssa Goodwin, who has helped guide the school district’s medical decisions throughout the pandemic. “We still don’t know where things are going, but at least in the elementary grades we’re not seeing any kind of dramatic changes in (case) numbers.”

Neighboring districts have been mask-optional for weeks. A divided Brunswick School Board on March 9 decided to keep mandatory masks for the district’s youngest students because Goodwin was unavailable to discuss the safety of children under age 5, who are currently ineligible for vaccination against COVID-19.

At the March 23 meeting, Goodwin recommended adopting the state’s guidelines, noting that low community transmission levels, high vaccination rates and a strong pooled testing system within the district all helped protect young students.

Masking in schools has been a contentious issue throughout the pandemic, and there’s still limited information about how face coverings impact educational development in children, according to Julie DellaMattera, an associate professor of early childhood development and education at the University of Maine.


Many teachers have reported their young students are behind pre-pandemic developmental benchmarks, DellaMattera said. Yet she added that while masks could possibly negatively affect a student’s ability to develop linguistic skills, there are reasons to think face coverings are not the problem.

“Here’s the thing: children that are visually impaired all learn how to speak and figure out emotions,” DellaMattera said. “There are countries where people wear burqas and turbans and things that cover their faces, and all those kids turn out fine. It’s hard to say whether masking is the issue or the fact that we’ve had kids sitting at desks as opposed to being able to play together.”

Whether face coverings are responsible for developmental delays or not, DellaMattera advised parents not to worry about their children’s long-term outlook.

“Kids are really resilient, and they bounce back,” she said. “I personally think things are going to be OK.”

For Brunswick families concerned about the lifted mandate, Mid Coast Hospital Chief Medical Officer Chris Bowe offered a suite of tips: feel free to continue masking, practice hand washing and basic hygiene at home and sign up for vaccinations and boosters as soon as possible.

“We continue to know that the best way to manage this is through vaccination,” he said. “So we encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.”

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