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Hodgdon School Board updated on district’s COVID-19 situation

HODGDON, Maine — After last month’s  contentious school board meeting regarding COVID-19 protocols, the Sept. 14 SAD 70 board meeting provided a calmer atmosphere to discuss the most recent updates on protecting against the virus at school. 

Last month, Hodgdon schools voted to make masks optional for the upcoming school year, meaning that more kids have greater chance of possible exposure in the event of a positive case, and subsequently have to face quarantine. 

There have been 20 cases of COVID-19 associated with the school so far this year, some of which date from before school started but may have affected students’ ability to attend the first days of school or participate in school sports, according to school nurse Sarah Baillargeon.

Baillargeon said there were 50 people in the school district that have had to quarantine in the last few weeks, with a further 11 tests awaiting results. 

“We are supposed to start our pool testing tomorrow [on Sept. 15],” Baillargeon said. “Right now that looks like 50 total people at Mill Pond and 38 total at the Middle/High School.”

Baillargeon emphasized the Maine Department of Education encourages keeping kids in school and has provided four exceptions to having avoided quarantine measures in case of a possible exposure. This includes being fully vaccinated, testing positive and then recovering in the last 90 days, participating in pool testing and, most notably, having a mask mandate. 

“That never really had a chance to be said at the last school board meeting,” she said. “But I think it’s a really important piece the school board needs to be aware of.” 

David Wells, a member of the SAD 70 School Board, said that if that information had been presented to the board at the last meeting, the vote on mask mandates may have gone differently. 

“If people understood that they’re going to have to have something either way, it’s either going to be the pool testing or the mask, maybe we would have had a different outcome, or at least a different kind of conversation,” he said. 

Superintendent Stephen Fitzpatrick said the information provided by Baillargeon should lead to a reexamination of the school’s pool testing policy, which, like masks, is currently optional for students. 

“We probably should review the benefit of the pool test with regards to early detection,” he said. “Staff involved in the testing will allow them not to have to quarantine in the event of a positive case.”

The board meeting also comes as Houlton’s RSU 29 School District, which does have a mask mandate, switches to remote learning as a result of a spike in COVID-19 cases. Baillargeon noted that Houlton’s district was acting in abundance of caution, and acknowledged the mask mandates did not necessarily make students immune from infection. 

“It’s not foolproof,” she said. “It’s just one more layer.” 

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