ME School District Committee Drops Mask Mandate


In a marathon meeting Tuesday, the ME School Committee voted to lower its district-wide mask mandate when students and staff return from winter break, effective Monday, Feb. 28. 

The highly anticipated meeting drew more than 200 people interested in the committee’s decision on whether it would follow the Mass. Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and Mass. Dept. of Health’s recommendation to drop mask mandates.  In preparation, the Committee met with town boards of health and others to secure input on its mandate policy, which has been in effect for nearly two years.  Manchester and Essex each lowered their public mask mandates earlier this month.

After much discussion, the committee officially repealed the policy with some important caveats.  First, test kits will be made available to all students and staff returning from vacation.  Also, a five-day home quarantine continues to be required anyone testing positive, with in-school masking upon their return to school through Day 10.  Masks are also still mandated on school buses, where federal requirements apply.  The school committee will continue to monitor COVID rates locally and coordinate with town officials.

Then, the district’s estimated $28.89 million comprehensive budget, in its final stages, was a big topic.  Tuesday was the latest in a series of public forums held in the last six months.  Parents and teachers tried to make a case for programs set to be cut (foreign language, music, athletic fields, to name a few).  The district has whittled the budget down to a 3.5 % increase over last year, the goal set previously by Essex and MBTS, a challenge with challenges from health care escalations, and COVID-related outlays (even after grant funding).  An added challenge lies in Essex’s ballooning district apportionment (up this year to more than 4% vs. MBTS’s sub 2%), which could prompt an override vote next year.  

The next School Committee meeting will be on Tuesday, March 1.