In this March 2, 2021, file photo, a pharmacy technician loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site at the Portland Expo in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

RSU 3 in Waldo County, where there’s been two COVID-19 outbreaks since the start of the school year, has some of the lowest vaccination rates among staff in the state. But school officials are saying there’s more to the story.

According to the state data, the district’s staff vaccination rate ranges from zero percent at Walker Elementary School in Liberty to 42.9 percent at Mt. View Middle School in Thorndike. Other schools in the district — Troy Elementary School, Morse Memorial Elementary School in Brooks and Mt. View Elementary School — report rates of 26.7 percent, 20 percent and 12 percent, respectively.  The state didn’t have vaccination information for Unity Elementary School.

But Superintendent Charles Brown said that while he understands the low numbers are shocking, he doesn’t think they are representative of actual vaccination rates within the district. Brown said the differences in data is a result of the state recording staff who did not report their vaccination status as unvaccinated.

“There is a huge disconnect between the data that they’re reporting and the data that we’re actually seeing when you take a closer look at it. Obviously, it’s data and you can look at it whatever you want to look at it and it’s going to look differently every time you look at it,” Brown said.

Statewide, about 75 percent of Maine teachers and school staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the state data. However, in Waldo County the average vaccination rate among school staff dips to about 60 percent, which is the lowest countywide average in the state.

Schools are being required this year to collect and submit data on staff vaccination to the Maine Department of Education and Maine DHHS.

Brown said that about 66 percent of staff responded to the survey sent to school workers in RSU 3. He reviewed that information to see how it aligned with the states numbers and found the data paints a more positive vaccination picture.

Of the staff surveys that the district received, Brown said 91 percent of the staff at Monroe Elementary School reported being vaccinated, 75 percent at Morse Memorial Elementary School, 93 at  Mt. View Elementary School, 93 percent at Mt. View Middle School and 100 percent at Mt. View High School, Troy Elementary School, Walker Elementary School and Unity Elementary School.

The state data will next be updated in October,.

CDC spokesperson Robert Long said that districts were notified that this is how data would be recorded in order to reflect full staff populations. Long said school entities can submit missing data for next month and the state dashboard will be updated.

Since the RSU 3 survey used to collect vaccination status from staff is optional, Brown said some staff may have chosen not to fill it out or simply were busy, given the start of the school year. Going forward, Brown said he will work with school administration about the importance of encouraging staff to fill out the survey.

“Those numbers [released by the state] are alarming but I don’t think those numbers paint a true picture of RSU 3 staff, but we will work on that,” Brown said.

The school vaccination data has been released as dozens of schools across Maine are reporting outbreaks since students returned to classrooms in recent weeks.

In the school district, Mt. View High School was one of the first schools to report an outbreak since school resumed, with four cases being reported. As of Wednesday morning, a Maine CDC spokesperson  said no additional cases have been linked to that outbreak.

Within the last week, the Maine CDC opened an outbreak investigation at the Morse Memorial Elementary School. Five cases are linked to that outbreak, according to the agency.

The Maine CDC classifies an outbreak as three or more positive cases within 14 days that are epidemiologically linked.

Cases have also been identified at three other schools within the district — Mt. View Middle School, Mt. View Elementary School and Monroe Elementary School, according to a Sept. 10 letter from Brown. At the time the district issued the letter to parents, more than 100 individuals were quarantined across the district due to the cases.

RSU 3 has required that students and staff wear masks in schools regardless of vaccination status.