Portland School Board to vote on student mask mandate

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The Portland Board of Education will soon decide whether to approve Superintendent Xavier Botana’s plan for returning to school as the district approaches its third pandemic-era academic year.

Board members conducted a first reading of the plan at their first in-person public meeting in more than a year Aug. 3.

Some parents spoke in opposition to the plan’s mandate that all students will have to wear masks unless they are outdoors.

Portland Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana.

One was Stacey Hang, who said as a school nurse she is more concerned about the mental health implications of wearing masks to school has had on children than the threat of them contracting COVID-19.

“My plea to you is to really consider what the kids are dealing with,” she said. “Out of all the people that have died in the state of Maine only one has been under the age of 20.”

Botana’s proposed plan for the return to school includes universal masking indoors and on buses for all students. Masking will not be required outdoors. School staff members will also be required to wear masks when around students indoors, although masking will be optional for vaccinated staff in indoor, adult-only settings.

The district will also partner with the state to conduct pooled testing of students in preschool through sixth grade.

Botana said the School Department is only required to follow mandates from the state regarding COVID-19, not recommendations. He said universal masking, for instance, is currently a recommendation.

“We will continue to evolve what we do based on the information that we have,” he said.

The board will hold a public hearing and vote on the proposed plan Aug. 17.