BANGOR, Maine — As Maine schools prepare for the start of classes in a couple of weeks, school leaders are deciding whether or not students and staff should be required to wear masks in the classroom. Some leaders have made up their minds on the matter, while others have yet to make a decision.
One school district that has announced a mask mandate is Bangor. Face coverings will be required at all times except while students are outside.
“We just set it up like we do any other class rule," April Miller, a first-grade teacher at Bangor's Abraham Lincoln School, told NEWS CENTER Maine. "It’s setting up the expectations, modeling it, showing [students] what we want them [to do and] what we don’t want them to do. They do a really nice job with it.”
Miller added that she's looking forward to the upcoming school year despite last year's "unnerving" start.
"There were so many unknowns, but I think we did a really great job navigating it when we had to change direction here and there," she said.
Miller said the Abraham Lincoln School had mostly in-person classes last year and encouraging her students to wear masks is nothing new.
"[Students] actually did a really good job with [masks]. I think as adults we had a harder time wrapping our heads around it," she said. "The students clearly had practiced it at home. We had the parent's support and the communities support."
Ray Phinney is the school safety and communications director for the Bangor School Department. He said having students wear masks allows them to have a more routine year.
"We plan on having open houses and having more of a community feel like we did before the pandemic," Phinney said.
Another school district expected to implement a mask mandate is RSU 23 in Old Orchard Beach. Superintendent John Suttie says he made the decision to require students and staff to wear masks just a few days ago.
"I was maybe thinking a recommendation at first, but in the past week, I’ve realized that the numbers are not getting better and we’ve got to do everything we can to keep our students in school five days a week," Suttie told NEWS CENTER Maine. "Maybe the data will get better and if it does we’ll certainly make a decision with the older groups of students to maybe take our masks off sometime in the future.”
The mask mandate is expected to be voted on at a school board meeting Thursday.
On Wednesday night, Jim Chasse, superintendent of the Hermon school district, sent out a letter updating the community on his plan for the school year. It reads, in part, “At this point in time, we will not require masks to be worn, however, we certainly strongly support wearing masks and especially when the transmission is proven to be locally at high levels."
According to the letter, the Hermon school committee voted to implement pool testing at its schools.