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Lewiston School Committee reverses course, votes to require masks for all students and staff

The decision comes after earlier this month the committee voted to make masks optional. A recent surge in COVID-19 cases forced school leaders to reconsider.

LEWISTON, Maine — Masks will now be required for students and staff at all schools in Lewiston this school year after hours of debate.

The School Committee voted 5-4 to mandate face coverings during school hours determined by the level of community transmission being low, moderate, substantial, or high. 

If community transmission is low, information will be assessed to make a determination on masking requirements. 

Earlier this month, the school committee voted in favor of making face coverings optional at the recommendation of Superintendent Jake Langlais, but a recent surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta Variant prompted an emergency meeting.

"As the month has gone by, we now have a lot of new information, and it's time to revisit that," Langlais told NEWS CENTER Maine Thursday. "We're taking an abundance of caution. Doing what's best for our kids, knowing some are more vulnerable than others."

RELATED: Lewiston school committee votes to make masks optional for students, staff this fall

At Thursday night's meeting, Langlais put forth three proposals.

1) Mask wearing required at all schools during school hours determined by the level of community transmission being low, moderate, substantial, or high.

2) Mask wearing required at all elementary schools because students under 12 cannot be vaccinated. Mask wearing at Lewiston Middle and High Schools would be recommended, but may be mandated as determined by the level of community transmission being moderate, substantial or high. 

3) Mask wearing recommended at all schools. Mask mandating is subject to being enacted as determined by local information that includes the level of community transmission being substantial or high.

Parents and school leaders debated this issue in a meeting that lasted over four hours.

Ultimately, they decided to go with the first proposal to require face coverings across the board. 

The U.S. CDC and the Maine CDC have recommended all teachers, school staff, and students wear masks in schools.

The Maine Department of Education said it continues to strongly urge all Maine schools to follow these public health recommendations, which have proven effective in protecting the health and safety of students and staff. 

Langlais also said the district has committed to pool testing. With parents' permission, students will be tested once a week to monitor cases.