SAD 4 board removed its masking challenge

To the Editor;

Sometimes in life you need to choose what is hard, and not what is easy. On  Sept. 2, the SAD 4 school board unfortunately chose the easy option: no more masking. They claimed it was a personal choice, all about freedom and normalcy. They ignored the information that had just been presented by the Northern Light doctors and staff who had requested the emergency meeting. Record numbers had been seen in the local ER. Just a day later, that record was broken. Community transmission and increasing cases will compromise care for all of Piscataquis County.

These medical providers were there to express concern for the students and community, but they were ignored. Instead, locals were allowed to share their favorite social media click bait. Dr Fauci was insulted, the CDC was maligned, and vaccines and masks ridiculed. The superintendent was silent, and the board chair did not vet these  claims or verify sources. It was an open mic for misinformation. Sadly, the crowd loved it.  

What does this vote for the easy option mean for our community? The Delta strain is spreading faster, and younger patients — who are as yet unvaccinated — are getting sicker. Instead of using the best tool available — universal masking — to protect students during the largest spike we’ve experienced, the board chose to do nothing. They ignored the data, and chose the easy option, either for convenience or to please the crowd.  

Lots of references were made that night to stress, anxiety and the mental health of  our students, with concerns about suicide. Rather than the adults setting a good example to use the best tool of universal masking to protect these kids in the coming weeks, the board and administration described their reluctance to mask. Students could have been inspired to do for others, and to build resilience with selfless deeds. Instead, the public urged the board to give students the easy path, the path of least resistance. Education is often about overcoming challenges. Instead the board voted to remove the immediate challenge of masking. It was easier.  

Not surprisingly, this vote for the easy option led to more positive cases in the  first two weeks than the district saw in the entire previous year. Contact tracing has led to more isolation, quarantines, and even a school cancellation. Now the entire district has transitioned to remote learning. In spite of this disastrous start, the board failed to reverse this vote.  

Their regularly scheduled Sept. 14 meeting began with three district parents sharing these very concerns, but the board continued with its support for “masking by choice” over the proven practice of universal masking. While there was no microphone and no crowd at this meeting, the misinformation did continue, but it came from the board itself. Masks were again disputed, and even vaccines were  questioned.

Board member Thelma Reagan correctly pointed out that last year’s  universal masking led to a total of two dozen cases, while this fall’s two weeks of optional masking had already resulted in over 30 cases. She also emphasized that distancing could no longer be a measure of protection, since all students are back in the building without an option for remote learning. That reality makes masking even  more essential during this Delta spike. Finally, she urged the board to vote for universal masking since the vaccine is still unavailable to the younger students. Her words were persuasive, but not enough to change the policy, and the district continues to allow  parent choice despite hundreds being in quarantine and the entire district being forced into remote learning.  

How can we correct misinformation? We need to push back with information. Please contact your board member. Attend the next scheduled board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at PCES. An emergency meeting could come sooner, but only public input will influence board members to act on behalf of the entire student  body, and for the larger Piscataquis community.

Sue Griffith


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