Sep. 16—All Regional School Unit 16 students are now required to wear masks to limit the spread of COVID-19 within the district's three schools.
The school board agreed Monday to add a mask mandate at Bruce Whittier Middle School and Poland Regional High School to match one that had already been in effect at elementary schools in Minot, Poland and Mechanic Falls.
The change, which started Wednesday, "will almost guarantee that we'll have less transmission in schools," Superintendent Kenneth Healey said.
Teachers and staff are also required to wear masks, Healey said, unless there are no students around.
The beefed-up rule comes in response to outbreaks in other districts that forced some schools to close and others to quarantine students.
Dave Tyler, a Minot father with a daughter at the high school, told the school board that "given how contagious the delta variant is, I feel that an outbreak" at the middle or high school "could happen at any time" unless members agreed to mandate masks.
The board voted 11-2 to go along with Healey's suggestion.
Those who disagreed argued that masks present problems of their own and won't help much.
"How long does this go on for?" asked Minot parent Daniel French. He said the effort to block COVID-19 "is going nowhere."
"Unmask our children, please," French told the panel.
But Healey said that after talking to other superintendents, he decided the district's best bet was to bolster its mask mandate.
"We should definitely have masking" when students are around, he said.
District statistics show 87% of staff is vaccinated, as well as half the 502 students at the high school in Poland. A little more than a third of the middle school's students are vaccinated.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 among students or staff at the middle or high schools in Poland. Six elementary school students have tested positive for COVID-19 since the school year got underway.
Teachers and staff aren't required to wear masks in the building if students are not present, Healey said, particularly since most are either vaccinated or "have natural immunity."
Healey said "natural immunity" means those who have had the disease already.
But natural immunity is far less effective than the vaccines used in the United States, according to scientific studies.
A study in Kentucky found that unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to be reinfected than the rate of breakthrough cases among vaccinated people.
"Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious delta variant spreads around the country," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control, said in a prepared statement.
The school board also agreed to reconsider its approach to COVID-19 measures at each of its monthly meetings so it can respond to changing conditions and new information.