THORNDIKE — Charles Brown, superintendent of Regional School Unit 3, said the past week has been “very rough” after the tragic deaths of a Mount View senior and two recent graduates.

At the Nov. 8 RSU 3 school board meeting, directors agreed with Brown to make Friday, Nov. 12, an early release day so administrators could check in with staff in consideration of their social and emotional health.

“We need some time to meet with our staff to get a pulse,” Brown said, “to gather information and figure out what is going well, where do we need to make adjustments, and check in on them, because it has been a very stressful time lately.”

Brown thanked the community for its support and recognized what teachers and staff had gone through in the previous week. “I’m very appreciative to our staff,” he said. “They were very strong last week and were here for our students. I want to commend them for doing what they needed to do, as well as taking care of themselves.”

“I send my condolences to those families,” he added.

Grief support groups are scheduled for Wednesdays at the Mount View High School counseling office starting Dec. 1, from 10:35 to 11:20 a.m. A team of trained volunteers will provide a safe and supportive place to share stories and grief.

The counseling office will have a meet and greet Wednesday, Nov. 17, from 10:35 to 11:20 a.m. for students to meet the team of facilitators, hear how the sessions will work and ask questions. For more information, call Pamela Smith, school counselor, at 568-4605 or psmith@rsu3.org.

In other business, Brown said the district was experiencing one of its highest rates of quarantine since the pandemic began. “Currently we have 11 positive student cases that are active and one staff,” he said. “In total we’ve had 69 students (test) positive, nine staff, and currently we have 170 students, and five staff members in quarantine.”

In the elementary schools, whole classrooms are being asked to quarantine, he said.

The universal masking protocol at RSU 3 was challenged again by two parents at the meeting. One parent said because younger children are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and with pool testing as an option, “there is now no reason to not ease the mask mandate, making it a parent’s choice.” The community, she said, deserves a concrete plan and an end date.

Student board member Alessio Gage disagreed, saying that as a student, he would support keeping the mask mandate. “I find it does not negatively impact my learning,” he said. “I think it is the safest and smartest decision.”

Brooks Director Ashleigh Eastham agreed with Alessio, saying that with COVID-19 case numbers going up, now would be a bad time to take away the mask protocol.

“I do think they offer some small protection,” she said. As the year goes on and more kids are vaccinated, Eastham said, the board should review the policy, perhaps after second vaccine doses have been administered to students aged 5 to 11.

Brown was asked what metric is used to decide when to close a grade, or an entire school, with the rising number of student and staff cases.

“To me,” Brown said, “shutting down a grade or shutting down the school, the metaphor or the analogy is like calling a snow day. There are so many different things that go into it.”

Brown said the number-one consideration for him is staffing and how the kids are impacted.

“Do I have enough staff to continue?” he asked. “I might have 50% of the class that has to quarantine, but I still have the teacher and we can still conduct business. But if I start to lose staff, it doesn’t matter how many kids are in quarantine — I can’t conduct business if I don’t have the staff.”

Regarding universal masking and sports, Brown said if the board continues the mask requirement, “we are going to be masked for athletics and spectators. Whether we can have spectators has not been decided yet.”

Maine Principals’ Association did not have a recommendation, he said. It hopes to have guidelines before the season starts Nov. 22. Much of the decision may be left up to the district, he added.

Brown said some districts had released information about their plans for masking for inside sports, and that policies are “all over the place.”

Some districts have said only home spectators will be allowed, or only a maximum of four family members. Others have said they will only require masking for spectators and not athletes.

The standard is following the home district rule when athletes are at home, and when away, follow whichever policy is more stringent.

“So if we are mandatory masking, and we go play a school that is not mandatory masking, our athletes have to be masked, because that is what we as a board voted on,” Brown said.

“If we have an opponent that does not have a mandatory mask policy, that comes to us, if we are mandating masks, they must honor that to participate in a sport here.”

Brown was asked what impact he foresees in light of the recent federal rule that businesses employing more than 100 people must require employee vaccinations or weekly testing. The new rule goes into effect Jan. 4.

“My understanding,” he said, “is we have to follow that rule.” Besides teachers and administrators, Brown said, it would apply to everybody associated with the district.