James Tager, the new superintendent of Bangor schools, visits the artificial turf at Cameron Stadium on Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The Bangor School Department will require masks for all students and employees while in school buildings for the upcoming school year, Superintendent James Tager said Monday.

The move comes as the delta variant spreads across Maine and the country. The rule will apply to all students and teachers, including those who are vaccinated, when students go back to school on Sept. 1. Portland Public Schools also announced it would require all students to wear masks in the upcoming semester regardless of vaccine status.

Tager, who is a month into his new role, acknowledged that there would be pushback to the policy. But, he said it was an “easy decision” for him to protect students as well as staff members with co-morbidities. He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine Department of Education and the Maine Center for Disease Control Prevention were united in recommending that it was best for students to wear masks, especially when many students (all under 12) are not eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“I would love to not have a mask,” Tager said. “But right now, it’s the best way to take care of each other.” 

Masks will also be required for students when they are transported to school or for sports. Parents who come into school buildings will also need to wear masks. Masks will not be required while students are outside.

Final decision on the matter will go to the Bangor School Committee, who will be able to approve or reject Tager’s proposal at a meeting on Aug. 18 in time for the beginning of the new school year. 

In Portland, where the school district is going back to full-time, in-person learning on Aug. 31, administrators plan to make masking optional for vaccinated staff in indoor settings that only involve adults. Staff who are not vaccinated will be expected to wear a mask at all times, Superintendent Xavier Botana said in a letter to parents.

The Portland Board of Public Education is scheduled to vote on the rules on Aug. 17. The district also plans to perform pooled testing for coronavirus, and resume allowing parents and other visitors into school buildings.

The Bangor school department had been hopeful that masks wouldn’t be required in the 2021-22 school year earlier in the summer, Tager said. Yet, the delta variant has been a “game changer” that has precipitated greater efforts to control the spread of the deadly virus,” Tager said. 

That is especially the case when many students couldn’t get vaccinated if they wanted to: None of the students in Bangor elementary schools are eligible to be vaccinated, while about one-third of middle school students aren’t old enough to get the shot, Tager said. 

He envisions changes could come to masking policies if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12. Some children under 12 have been inoculated in the United States in clinical trials that experts say will pave the path for FDA authorization to give younger kids the vaccine.

The decision is also to avoid any potential COVID-19 outbreaks that can send students home, Tager said, citing data that showed that students in the district who learned in-person had been more successful than their hybrid and remote learning counterports.

The district is looking at pool testing for COVID-19, but has not made a decision yet on the matter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.