Orono students, teachers, staff and visitors will be required to wear masks when at school.

Just over two weeks ago, after revealing its Safe Return School Plan at its regular schedule school board meeting that said masks would not be required, the Orono school board reversed course on Thursday night and passed a resolution requiring universal masking starting on the first day of school on Sept. 2.

The resolution passed unanimously after the board heard over an hour of public comment on the mask requirement, which led to the crowd shouting down the board while the vote was being taken.

The board quickly adjourned the meeting and left the stage to loud shouts and jeers after the resolution passed.

The meeting started with board chair Bob Tunheim outlining the need for the meeting and asking for decorum and for attendees to respect other peoples comments and to allow everyone to finish their alloted three minutes of time.

“I’m deeply dismayed that several comments we have received have questioned our character,” Tunheim said. “You can disagree with our decisions, but please don’t question the motivations or the integrity of our administrators or my fellow board members. Please know we are your friends, neighbors and fellow members of your community and care deeply about the quality of the education we are providing for our students and their safety. We are doing the best we can with the directives and data we receive as we receive it. Please try to keep the division down and support us in our goal of providing the best education for all of our kids.”

The first speaker was Orono student Sam Jackson, who spoke in favor of the mask requirement.

“I’m excited to return to school and hope it can be for a full year,” Jackson said. “There is only one way that we can all safely come back and that relies on the cooperation of our community and professional health advisors from both the state and federal government. They know what they are doing because that’s what they have studied and that’s what they practice. We as a community need to listen to those officials on matters of public health as they have time and time again recommended and stressed the need for masks in schools.”

Rachel Bollis, mother of a first grade student, spoke against the mandate.

“I was pleased to receive Dr. Flescher’s email earlier this summer saying that the current guidance relies on personal family responsibly rather than requirements,” Bollis said. “Before this communication from Dr Flescher, we had made other arrangements for schooling, one that would respect families ability to decide for themselves. We no longer have that option, it’s too close to school starting. I was elated to tell my son, now going into first grade, it was no longer necessary to transfer and Orono was standing up and valuing families in the community and their capability to decide what is best for themselves - something that should never been any other way. I was proud that our district was putting families’ choice first, where it should be. Your letter the other day deciding what’s best for all families in our district, even though you are well aware from the meeting two weeks ago what the majority wants is choice, is disturbing for multiple reasons. But one - and the biggest for me - is try to explain to my 7-year-old son why Orono teaches the character pillars, with the first one being trustworthiness and do what you say you will do. The head of the district doesn’t feel it’s necessary to follow them herself. I’m angry, I’m disappointed and I’m ashamed of the leadership in this district. Something needs to change and dangling the carrot has lost the appeal for the majority of us. We need to bring this district back to center and that starts with giving families in the community personal and family responsibility now.”

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