BELFAST — Several parents and residents spoke out against COVID-19 school protocols at the Dec. 13 Regional School Unit 71 Board of Directors meeting.

Many parents took issue with the district’s mask requirement, vaccine promotion and quarantine procedure. They said students should not be required to protect adults.

One Swanville resident brought up mask-induced exhaustion syndrome, saying her daughter comes home with a headache every day. She added that masking can cause physical harm and offered information she found to the board. The Republican Journal has not reviewed the information she shared.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found there is a physiological burden on health care workers who work in personal protective equipment for prolonged hours with few adequate breaks for personal care, nutrition and hydration, according to its website. Such equipment usually includes N95 filtering facepiece respirators or powered air-supplied respirators. The site also notes that “Cloth masks and surgical masks do not provide an airtight fit across the face. (Carbon dioxide) escapes into the air through the mask when you breathe out or talk.”

A Belmont resident took issue with the school’s quarantine and mask procedures. She said her son was quarantined for 17 out of 30 days between October and November.

She said quarantining has caused a lot of stress for children and the laptops and devices students are given for remote learning are old. Some teachers overload students with missed assignments when they return, rather than assigning work during quarantine.

Some of those present said choosing to vaccinate children should be up to the parents and their medical providers, not schools. Even though the district does not require students to get the COVID-19 vaccine, parents feel pressure to have their children get inoculated, they said.

One person who made heated comments over Zoom had a connection that kept cutting in and out, but could be heard saying, “You’ve got a Nazi running your school” before his comment period ended.

McLean said the Mills administration is considering adjusting the standard operating procedures issued to schools for COVID-19 after hearing concerns from school administrators across the state. There are many aspects of the rules that make it difficult to keep students caught up in school, she added.

“There’s some pieces of the SOP that are particularly hard and it’s reached a really fever pitch for many of our families where kids have to refuge and go into quarantine and miss instruction and courses,” she said.

It is time-consuming for the district to do contact tracing and no other institution is required to do it anymore, she said. Quarantining has also been particularly hard for students, and in many cases requires parents to rearrange their work schedules. She acknowledged that infection rates in the state are worse now than in previous waves of the pandemic.

It is unclear when changes might be made, but when they are, the board can vote to adjust district protocols accordingly, she said.

Board member Cory Seekins has been vocal about information he has gathered to support his view that some of the district’s protocols are worse for students than the possibility of contracting the virus. He supports relaxing the mandates, which he thinks are negatively affecting students’ mental health and ability to learn.

“We really need to think long and hard and be independent thinkers on this and be as aggressive as we can, so this doesn’t leak into a fourth year of school,” he said.

He said weekly hospitalization rates for children with COVID-19 are lower than hospitalization rates for children with other transmissible illnesses, like influenza, in previous years.

Board member David Crabiel said he thinks the data Seekins presented could indicate that the district’s protocols are working, rather than that the virus is less severe for school-aged children than other illnesses.

He would like to see the school administration and nurses come forward with protocol changes they support before he would seriously consider adjusting them, he said.