AUBURN — The school board voted unanimously on Wednesday to adopt an optional masking policy on March 9 in response to new guidelines from the Maine Center for Disease Control released earlier in the day.
The two school committee members who serve on the health and safety subcommittee, which recommended the district continue universal masking for another two weeks, endorsed the policy change.
The recommendation from the 10-person subcommittee — which includes school staff, district officials and medical personnel — was created Tuesday evening, before the CDC released its new guidelines.
Starting March 9, the state will no longer recommend mask-wearing in schools and daycares.
The subcommittee’s main concern was moving too quickly to optional masking and then having to go back if cases started to rise again.
Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque has proposed optional masking.
“If this whole pandemic, we have always followed the recommendations of the CDC, we cannot go back and look at their recommendation now to end the masking and say “no, we are not going to track your recommendation‘, while we always followed their recommendation,” Lévesque said.
This statement helped convince committee members to vote in favor of the policy change.
The Superintendent will retain the authority to reinstate mandatory mask wearing for all students and staff if COVID-19 conditions change.
One challenge identified by the subcommittee that was not ignored was the state’s requirement that students wear a mask for five days after returning from COVID-19 quarantine.
Subcommittee members expressed concerns about maintaining student confidentiality while enforcing the policy, especially in middle and high schools where students move from class to class every day.
During public comments, four people implored the school board to change the masking policy. No one spoke up to defend the policy.
One speaker, John Stark, who spoke in public comments at previous meetings, told the school committee he would see them next in court if they did not overturn the mask mandate.
Many other school districts, including Lewiston and Augusta, also voted to make masks optional.
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