Masks will still be optional in SAD 4

GUILFORD — With the coronavirus case numbers improving, SAD 4 officials have opted to keep the Safe Return to School Plan as is, meaning masks will remain optional in accordance with the wishes of parents or/guardians.

“Currently we are actually doing very well,” Superintendent Kelly MacFadyen said during a school board meeting at Piscataquis Community Elementary School on Nov. 9. She said case numbers have risen as of late in district communities but so far this has not been reflected among SAD 4 students and staff.

MacFadyen said since the start of the school year there have been 61 positive cases (the district was in all-remote learning for two weeks in September). “The good news is we have had only three positive cases since our last meeting,” she said.

The superintendent said 12 people had to be quarantined from the three cases, and another needed to quarantine as a result of a positive case on a sports team from another school. MacFadyen said another 23 close contacts did not need to quarantine as a result of being vaccinated or taking part in pool testing.

“I think our current Safe Return to School Plan is fine and is working well,” she said. The superintendent suggested that the plan not be included on future school board meeting agendas unless there needs to be a change, instead of appearing as an action item each month.

This suggestion was approved as part of the motion.

Winter sports athletes will be returning and Piscataquis Community Secondary School Principal John Keane said that wrestling will take place in 2021-22 after interscholastic competitions were not being offered a year prior due to health and safety concerns. 

Keane, who is a member of the Maine Principals’ Association Sports Medicine Committee, said at the moment vaccines are going to be required for wrestlers but this could likely change. “We are working on a decision for the wrestlers to make it more equitable,” he said, as the committee does not want to have a different requirement for this sport only.

MacFadyen said the reason behind the original decision was that “masking was dangerous to wrestlers.” 

She said basketball players will be required to wear masks, as was done in 2020-21.

The superintendent said she and other area district administrators are working on guidelines with athletic directors for the upcoming sports seasons. “It does look like the year will start with everybody masking,” MacFadyen said. The requirement could be lifted if case numbers decrease in the region.

Preliminary plans would return fans to gyms after a season’s absence, and concessions would be sold but only consumed in designated areas. Games would also be streamed again.

“At this point officials have to be masked but we are hopeful that if the situations change, the protocols change,” MacFadyen said.

She said the season will still be difficult in many ways. There likely will be postponements and cancellations for COVID-19 reasons, “but at least we can play and fans can attend, which is an improvement from last year.”

The superintendent asked for everyone to be patient, such as with other schools having different sports guidelines than are in place for SAD 4 or the streaming service experiencing interruptions. “We know everyone is doing the best they can under extremely stressful conditions,” she said.

Keane announced that Mitchel Noyes will be the PCHS boys basketball head coach, succeeding Alden Gregory. Gregory, who taught fifth grade, and his wife Jessica — a PCHS English/language arts teacher who submitted her resignation effective at the start of 2022 — will be moving to southern Maine.

The principal said a dress code ad hoc committee of staff, students, parents and community members has been meeting to review dress code guidelines in the school handbook. He said the group is looking “to modernize and make the dress code more positive.”

He said recommendations still need to be run by other district groups and should come before the school board at a future meeting.

PCES Principal Anita Wright said an “Old-fashioned Winter Concert” is planned for two dates next month, Wednesday, Dec. 8, for kindergarten to grade 3, and Tuesday, Dec. 14 for grades 4-6 with times to be announced. A snow date will be Tuesday, Dec. 21.

Wright said a winter wonderland theme is planned for the return of school concerts after a year’s absence. Students will perform outside under an awning, wearing school-made scarves and holding flameless candles to sing traditional holiday favorites. The audience will be watching from the parking lot and hot cocoa and coffee will be available.

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