All AOS 93 schools are officially mask optional as of March 16.
On March 8, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s standard operating procedures were updated to indicate that masking in schools is optional, unless an individual is returning from isolation or quarantine.
Across schools, staff members will not be expected to enforce a family’s decision to have their students mask or not.
The Great Salt Bay Community School Committee and the Bristol Consolidated School Committee unanimously voted to make masks optional at their schools effective March 14 at their meetings on March 9 and March 2, respectively.
The South Bristol School Committee voted to stop mandating masks while outside – such as at recess – and to make masking optional in the school building and on buses while Lincoln County is at a moderate community level as defined by the CDC at the committee’s meeting on March 1.
As of March 15, Lincoln County remains at a moderate community level.
The Nobleboro Central School Committee unanimously voted to move to optional masking effective March 16 at its meeting on March 14.
Jefferson Village School has been mask optional throughout the pandemic.
Lincoln Academy made masks optional effective March 9.
Across the school committee meetings, the need for the school communities to accept each student’s decision to mask or not mask emerged as a common theme.
On March 1, SBS Committee Chair Sara Mitchell said it was important that, when masking becomes optional at the school, the choices of the students are respected.
“We have to be courteous,” Mitchell said. “There’s a lot going on, and we need to make sure we can all respect each other.”
During the GSB committee meeting, AOS 93 Superintendent Craig Jurgensen read a statement from the Great Salt Bay Student Council in which the student representatives expressed their concerns regarding making masks optional. Namely, they were concerned that students might be bullied for wearing or not wearing a mask and those students who decide to wear masks might feel unsafe if forced to sit near students who choose not to mask.
“We are aware that these concerns will not change the result of the school board vote but hope that they will be taken into consideration and discussed,” the student council said.
GSB Principal Kim Schaff said that preventing the students’ decisions to mask or not mask from creating social rifts will demand consistent communication from staff members that every member of the community needs to be sensitive to other individuals’ concerns and decisions.
Jurgensen said that he had communicated with school nurses and administrators prior to the school committee meetings to ask them to prepare for the questions and concerns that may emerge following decisions to make masking optional.
“There are going to be students and staff who will want to wear masks and we want to make sure that everyone’s decision is accepted,” Jurgensen said. “It has to be a conscious thing that we are rehearsing and that we are practicing.”
At the BCS committee meeting on March 2, Principal Jennifer Ribeiro and John Carroll, facilities manager at BCS and JVS, both said that they did not expect things to feel like they did in 2019 at BCS quickly, if at all.
Ribeiro said that she expects members of the school’s community, from students to staff members to parents, to fall anywhere on a spectrum with regards their level of comfort with not wearing a mask in the school.
“Emotionally, it’s going to take some time for the whole staff to manage that transition and feel comfortable,” Ribeiro said.
Carroll said that he did not think that social distancing would ever not be a consideration for school administrators and staff members as they determine class sizes going forward.
“One of the things you’ll find is, talking about spacing, I don’t think you’ll ever see it go back to what it was three years ago,” Carroll said.
On March 15, Jurgensen said that while Jefferson Village School, Bristol Consolidated School, and Nobleboro Central School are no longer contact tracing, parents will still be notified if a student in their child’s grade span tests positive for COVID-19.
However, GSB will continue to contact trace.
GSB committee member August Avantaggio said that the school’s health and safety committee recommended that masking be made optional at GSB effective March 14 and the school continue to contact trace.
On Feb. 16, the Maine CDC Standard Operating Procedures were revised to read that “schools may conduct contact tracing … if feasible.”
Students subject to quarantining if found to be a close contact would be faculty and students that are unvaccinated and have not had COVID-19 in the prior 90 days.
To view recordings of past school committee meetings, go to the AOS 93 YouTube page.