A sign leftover from the year-long school mask mandate still adorns the front entryway of the St. John Valley Technology Center. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

Two school departments north of Bangor are on track to require face coverings when the new school year begins this fall.

Orono’s school board will consider a universal mask mandate at its meeting on Wednesday. The policy would require all students and staff to wear masks inside classrooms, buildings and buses but not outside, according to the district’s draft reopening plan.

And on Thursday night, the Milford School Board passed a proposal to reopen its one school with a universal mask mandate for at least six weeks. 

The moves in Milford and Orono follow the Bangor School Department announcing its own mask mandate for all students and employees on Monday. The city’s school committee will weigh in on that proposal on the same day as Orono’s school board.

Schools across the area are considering mask policies inside classrooms following a surge of COVID-19 cases and the rise of the delta variant across the state and country. 

Already, two Aroostook County school districts are requiring that students and staff wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Portland Public Schools also announced it would require all students to wear masks in the upcoming semester regardless of vaccine status. 

In Orono, the proposed mask mandate developed out of a school board working group that consulted with medical professionals, said Brian McGill, chair of the RSU 26 board.

Elsewhere in the Bangor area, school districts either are not requiring masks or still deciding whether to require them.

The Brewer School Department and RSU 63 — which covers Holden, Eddington and Clifton — will not require masks in their schools, though both districts are encouraging students and staff to wear them.

Brewer will use regular pool testing of students to decrease the potential for cases or outbreaks in the district. And the school department is not ruling out a mask requirement “if and when that’s deemed necessary based on facts on the ground,” Superintendent Gregg Palmer said in a letter to parents and staff earlier this week.

The school committee in Hermon will take action on a masking policy in a special meeting on Monday, Superintendent Jim Chasse said. Glenburn’s school department will do so in a committee meeting on Aug. 23. 

Chasse — who said his district would likely implement pool testing — noted the situation continued to change rapidly with increasing concerns about the delta variant. Maine Department of Education guidelines released to educators on Thursday would likely play a role in the committee’s decisions, he said. 

Those guidelines note that students and staff members who aren’t showing symptoms don’t have to quarantine in case of a COVID-19 case at their school if the school is enforcing a universal mask requirement. Students and staff without symptoms also won’t have to quarantine if they’re vaccinated and participating in weekly testing.

Quarantines due to COVID-19 cases were a frequent cause of schedule disruptions throughout the last school year.

The Veazie Community School is still weighing whether to require masks indoors, but encourages those eligible to be vaccinated, said Matthew Cyr, the superintendent in Veazie and principal of the town’s school. 

Veazie plans to use regular pooled testing and offer vaccination clinics, Cyr said.

In the Old Town area, RSU 34 hasn’t decided on masks one way or the other. 

In an Aug. 9 letter to families, Superintendent David Walker said the district will continue to evaluate information as the Sept. 7 start of school approaches. In addition to Old Town, RSU 34 serves Alton and Bradley.

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...