Lewiston schools optional masking policy could change

Image courtesy of Lewiston Public Schools.
Image courtesy of Lewiston Public Schools.(Gray tv)
Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 6:19 AM EDT
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LEWISTON, Maine (WMTW) - The Lewiston school district’s optional masking policy could be changed during an emergency meeting Thursday night.

The decision to schedule the unexpected meeting followed tense discussion between committee members following a ‘reopening update’ from Superintendent Jake Langlais which, along with other guidance, recommended universal masking indoors.

Superintendent Langlais intended to present plans to participate in the state’s COVID-19 pooled testing program but the board did not hear or discuss his proposal.

“It allows us to stay in school more so in person and less students that have to quarantine as a close contact,” Langlais said.

Unless parents opt out, participating students would provide nasal swabs weekly for PCR testing.

During the meeting, numerous parents asked the school board to reconsider the previously approved policy making masks optional.

“As it relates to infectious diseases, you may not believe in them but they sure believe in you,” said Dr. Lori Banks, a Lewiston parent and assistant professor of biology at Bates College.

Dr. Banks says a mask mandate could help prevent spread and mutation of the virus.

Pooled testing isn’t the only solution, Dr. Banks says, but it’s one she supports and encourages participation in.

“As you allow your unvaccinated 9-year-old like we have in our house to go around without a mask and to increase their chances of exposure, every new virus replication is a chance for a mutation to happen,” Dr. Banks said.

If put into practice, Lewiston’s pooled testing plan would have student samples divided into pools which could be individual classes or homerooms.

Positive cases would trigger targeted testing and contact tracing.

According to data from the Maine Department of Education, 302 schools in 96 districts are enrolled. Seventeen schools have already started testing. The state has tested 203 pools and one came back with a positive result for COVID-19.

The superintendent’s proposed strategy will be discussed at a meeting where optional masking could be overturned.

The emergency meeting to discuss masking and pooled testing will be there at Connors Elementary this Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

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