District will be in remote learning through Monday, Jan, 24

MILO — SAD 41 is among the Maine school districts following the latest standard operating procedure from the Maine Department of Education. An adjustment made in the new year is the reduction in quarantine for COVID-19 positive student and staff cases from 10 to five days if certain criteria is met. Another is schools with universal masking policies in place no longer need to identify close contacts of those who have tested positive.

The MDOE is allowing schools with mandatory masking to stop identifying COVID-19 positive close contacts as the highly contagious omicron variant has proven overwhelming for school nurses.

SAD 41 Assistant Superintendent Darcie Fournier, during a school board meeting held at the Penquis Valley School and over Zoom on Jan. 12, said students and staff who test positive can return to classes after five days of isolation if they are symptom-free or have reduced symptoms. They also need to be fever-free for 24 hours.

The day after the meeting, the district announced that it would be going remote or six days on classes starting on Friday, Jan. 14. Students are scheduled to return to in-person learning on Monday, Jan. 24.

In a message to the community Superintendent Michael Wright said the move to remote status is “due to the rapid increase in COVID cases and sickness throughout our school community population. The spike in cases now is far greater than any other time and thus necessitates this decision to intervene. The remote status will run through next week with an initial plan to return to in person instruction on Jan. 24.”

“The new quarantine exception is because we have universal masking across our system,” Fournier said during the school board meeting. “Students and staff who are close contacts do not have to quarantine.” Fournier said it is recommended that those who are close to positive cases remain at home when not in school.

The assistant superintendent said outdoor and bus exposures are no longer considered close contacts under the new SOP.

Wright said the SOP will likely be amended again over the rest of the current school year.

The most recent policy change comes less than two weeks  after the department released new guidelines allowing students infected with the virus to come back to school faster. The rules will apply to the vast majority of Maine’s school districts, as most have indoor mask requirements.

Schools have commonly used contact tracing as a tool to contain local spread since the beginning of the pandemic. But with the omicron variant spreading person-to-person so easily and quickly, experts have begun to wonder whether contact tracing is an efficient way to fight the current surge.

“Trying to catch omicron by contact tracing is like trying to catch a bullet train on a bicycle,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Jan. 12

This variant also appears to spread to others during the early part of an infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that those infected with COVID-19 are usually contagious two days before symptoms begin, making quick and effective contact tracing especially challenging, the MDOE said.

“School superintendents have reported that conducting contact tracing in a timely and thorough manner is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for school personnel given the fast spread of the omicron variant,” the department said in a statement.

The arduous process of contact tracing is commonly done by school nurses, who also usually notify the parents of students who are close contacts. Providing districts the option to suspend the practice will allow staff to dedicate more time to other vital COVID-related tasks, including conducting pooled testing, the education department said. The department encourages districts that have the resources to effectively contact trace to continue to do so.

The SAD 41 School Board approved a staff OSHA policy for COVID-19 vaccination, testing and face covering to comply with a new federal law to go into effect soon. Wright said the law may go partially into effect on Jan. 18 and in full on Feb. 17.

He said the policy will allow the district “to commence with testing for those who chose not to be vaccinated.”

The superintendent said the new policy will continue to be discussed with district employees and the weekly COVID-19 tests for those who do not show proof of vaccination will be done at school.

“We think it would be much less problematic than to have employees take time off to get tested and come back,” he said.

The procedure of multiple readings of policy was waived. “We could be snowed out of a meeting and have the law in place,” Wright said.

“We have had a lot of cases since the beginning of the year. We have had 25 cases since Jan. 1,”  District Nurse Bethany Heal said. She said many of these have come in the previous week, and a number have involved siblings.

“Most feel better by day five and they come back on day six,” Heal said.

“I have given families the option to extend isolation,” she said. “They don’t have to rush back.”

Penquis Valley School Athletic Director Jason Mills said the winter sports teams have been dealing with frequently changing schedules.

“There have been cancellations every day because of COVID in our school and other schools,” Mills said. He said the high school basketball teams have gotten much of the schedule in, with the Patriot girls playing seven games and the boys having taken to the court six times.

He said the middle school boys basketball team has not been as fortunate with positive cases putting the available roster down to just five players. This resulted in the Railroaders opting out of the Penquis League postseason.

Mills said at the start of the basketball season a voucher system was used for fan attendance — spectators needed to wear masks and food and drink is not permitted in the gymnasium. He said the bleachers have not been filled so the voucher system was discontinued.

“Fans are doing a good job following the mask policy,” Mills said,  saying spectators have also been complying with the no food/drink rules.

The athletic director, who also coaches the Penquis boys, said players have complied with mask policies as well. He said the coverings have fallen at times during games, but officials have given leeway to allow players to wait until stoppages in the action to pull their masks up.

Reporter David Marino Jr. of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this story.

GUILFORD — An early step for a proposed regional comprehensive high school concerns the governance of the secondary institution. The first of its kind secondary institution in the state would be a community school district, or CSD, which would need Maine Legislature approval as the Maine Department of Education is no longer approving new CSDs,

SAD 4 Superintendent Kelly MacFadyen told the school board during a meeting at Piscataquis Community Elementary School on Jan. 11 that administrators from the area districts have been meeting with Portland-based attorney Bill Stockmeyer about taking the request for a CSD to the Legislature. She said the proposed legislation will be presented in Augusta by Rep. Paul Stearns, R-Guilford — who is a retired SAD 4 superintendent.

The project involves SAD 4, Dexter-based SAD 46, and SAD 41 of Milo. RSU 64 of Corinth has shown interest but has not taken any formal action. Formal district by district votes on joining the regional high school will be taken in the future.

The Maine DOE defines the CSD as a combination of two or more municipalities and/or districts formed to build, maintain and operate a school building or buildings to educate any or all grades. A CSD may be formed to build and operate a grade 7-12 school for all towns in the CSD. Those same towns will maintain individual control over the education of their K-6 students or belong to a school union. A community school district may also oversee education of all grades K-12.

CSD school committees are apportioned according to the one-person, one-vote principle. The member municipalities share the CSD costs, based on a formula that factors in the number of students in each town and/or state valuation or any combination of either. CSD budgets are approved by a majority of voters present at a district budget meeting followed by approval at referendum.

Representatives from the school districts have been meeting monthly to form a plan to consolidate the three high schools into one regional school to cut down on expenses and to pool resources. Two other attempts — one in the St. John Valley and the other in southern Aroostook County — failed and the state diverted the money to central Maine. The state had offered those districts $100 million and $120 million, respectively, toward a school, but Scott Brown of the MDOE had said there is no fixed amount for the current project.

SAD 4 board member Thelma Regan shared how she was very impressed with Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Upton, Massachusetts, after touring the campus last month to see what could be built.

“Everyone was so engaged. Everyone was so excited about what they’re doing,” Regan said. She said the Massachusetts school has an enrollment of about 1,200 — about 300 more than would attend the regional high school from SAD 4, 41, and 46 and RSU 64 — and the facility covers about nine acres.

“Not one kid is lost,” Regan said, saying staff and the outside community, such as automotive businesses, are involved at Blackstone Valley to help with students’ aspirations.

“If we have the opportunity to do something like this I would be so happy because the kid who wants to go to Yale and the kid who wants to work on that diesel truck will both get what they want,” she said.

Piscataquis Community Secondary School Principal John Keane said one student formerly attended a similar institution in Massachusetts, and she would be happy to speak about her experiences.

Board member Art Jette said the selectboard in Cambridge “wanted me to tell you they are all behind it. They see it as the salvation to sustain us.”

“We have to remember we don’t care where it’s built, we care that it’s built,” Board Chairperson Niki Fortier said.

A potential high school location is to be determined once CSD approval is granted and governance is finalized. The regional high school committee would appoint board members from each participating district to oversee the facility. Each district would have the same number of members.

“We felt it was important for the communities, regardless of their size, to know we all have the same representation on that board, and that if there were a question of a tie, that just means … we need to have more discussions and come to some kind of consensus before we move on,” MacFadyen said during a December school board meeting.

The regional high school got the go-ahead from the Maine Department of Education about a year ago.

The group of school districts originally applied for the project in 2017 and was rated third on the Major Capital School Construction Program priority list but moved up after the state scrapped two similar projects in Aroostook County. Now district administrators, principals and others are crafting a plan that draws on lessons learned from attempts in St. John Valley and Houlton and benefits all of the communities involved.

The regional high school would be integrated with a career and technical school along with the University of Maine system and the Maine Community College system, and it would support industry training programs, according to a description on the DOE website.

The state will fund the project, though certain features and customizations to the school would likely need to be funded locally. The school would serve grades 9-16, and potentially offer post-secondary courses to area residents who have already graduated from high school.

The Piscataquis Observer’s Valerie Royzman contributed to this story.

 • January 7, 2022

MILO – Penquis Valley High School jumped out to an early lead, 9-3 before being up 12-5 after the first quarter and as much as 22-7 in the opening half, on the way to a 52-24 victory over Piscataquis Community High School during a Class C North matchup between the regional rivals on Jan. 6.

The now 3-3 Patriots have won three in a row a third of the way into 2021-22, with the 24 points allowed on Jan. 6 matching the team’s season-best. In the prior game Penquis also yielded just 24 points in a 37-24 victory vs. Searsport District High School during a New Year’s Eve matinee.

PCHS fell to 1-5 with the loss to the Patriots.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
HANDS UP – PCHS senior Alex Lyon is defended by Penquis senior Mikal Sickler during the first quarter of a Jan. 6 game in Milo, with PCHS senior Buddy Hutchins and Penquis junior Nate Lovejoy looking on. The host Patriots won 52-24.

In the opening quarter Penquis junior LJ Shaw picked up seven of his game-high 17 points to help his team build its 12-5 advantage after eight minutes. Shaw connected from beyond the 3-point line and had a layup and two more on an offensive rebound put back. Five more field goals over the rest of play would increase Shaw’s point total from seven to 17.

A 10-3 run in the second quarter put the home team up by 15, 22-7. Three shots from the floor by sophomore Max Wells accounted for six of these 10 Patriot points. Wells finished the night with 14 points.

He and Shaw combined for 31 of Penquis’ 52 points (nearly 60 percent). The Patriot starting five scored 48 of the 52 total points with senior Alvin Robshaw picking up nine, senior Mikal Sickler having six, and junior Nate Lovejoy added a layup for two.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
TWO OF 17 – Junior LJ Shaw of Penquis scored on a layup early in the fourth quarter ahead of PCHS junior Tyrus Cobb during a Jan. 6 game in Milo. Shaw had a contest-best 17 points to help the Patriots win 52-24.

PCHS senior Buddy Hutchins led his team with eight points. Hutchins had two points in each quarter, coming on a trio of shots from the floor and a pair of free throws in quarter No. 2. Senior Trevor Hathorn was next for the Pirates with five points, coming on a second quarter 3-pointer and a pair of foul shots.

The two teams are scheduled to play for a second time at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 8 in Guilford.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
FIGHT FOR THE REBOUND – Penquis senior Mikal Sickler snags a missed shot away from the grasp of PCHS junior Tyrus Cobb with Penquis junior LJ Shaw and PCHS sophomore Scott Chadbourne both nearby.


Penquis 52


PCHS 5 8 5 6 – 24

PENQ 12 14 10 16 – 52

PCHS (1-5): Hutchins 8, Hathorn 5, S. Chadbourne 3,

M. Chadbourne 2, Lyon 2, Snowden 2, Tracy 2.

Penquis (3-3): Shaw 17, Wells 14, Robshaw 9, Sickler 6,

Brown 2, Gahagan 2, Lovejoy 2.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
PRESS BREAK – PCHS sophomore Scott Chadbourne heaves the ball over the reach of Penquis sophomore Dylan McKenzie, left, and senior Mikal Sickler to get the ball up the court during the third quarter.

DOVER-FOXCROFT — The Piscataquis County Commissioners agreed in September to provide $7,000 to the town of Brownville for a slope study. County officials heard from the community’s Fire Chief Kevin Black regarding repairs needed to the walls under the rail trestle on Railroad Avenue in Brownville Junction.

“We were fortunate last year in our line of credit. We didn’t have to use a lot of it,” County Manager Michael Williams said during a Jan. 4 commissioners meeting. He explained with less funds needed to pay interest on the line of credit — which can go up to $1.75 million annually — remaining monies can be used to cover the county’s $7,000 slope study contribution.

In late September, Black said the walls are failing and the town would like to erect a temporary structure to keep the road passable and the raised sidewalks in place.

“If this falls on us, it’s going to stop us from getting into the Junction until it’s fixed,” Black said. He said Railroad Avenue is the only way in and out and about a third of the town population lives in this section of Brownville.

“We’re going to have to do something this winter to maintain that wall,” Black said. He said he has spoken with the railroad but has not gotten much of a response since the wall, road and sidewalks all are town property. The railroad trestle runs from 25 to 30 feet over the ground, well above the wall, and there are no structural issues with it or its support system.

He said a slope study would help determine the stability of the site, which would then be used for engineering work to determine a permanent solution.

“It’s going to be a huge cost to the town because it’s going to have to be fixed,” Black said, saying as many grant opportunities as possible will be pursued.

In other business, Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Todd Lyford said the department dispatch services are fully staffed. Commissioners formally approved hiring Megan Bishop as a full-time dispatcher.

Lyford said three new dispatchers have been hired, each in a different degree of training, but all should be completely certified by the end of February. “We are up to fully staffed, so that’s a good thing,” he said.

The chief deputy said Dispatch Sgt. Gary Grant’s last day will be Jan. 10, as his family has moved to southern Maine and Grant will be taking a position with Lincoln County.

“Tell him we wish him the best,” Commissioners Chairperson Jim White said. “He certainly benefited the county tremendously,” mentioning Grant’s efforts to procure various grants over the years.

“We are very excited. Beaver Cove is adopting their first ever emergency operations plan,” Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency Director Jaeme Duggan said.

The community north of Greenville is scheduled to approve the plan, as well as funding for a generator, at a Jan. 6 selectperson’s meeting.

In a post-meeting email, Duggan said county EMA was invited to a November Beaver Cove select meeting. Duggan explained then what the agency does and what hazard mitigation is. The session was the first meeting for revising the Piscataquis County Hazard Mitigation Plan, which is due in 2023.

Duggan said Beaver Cove officials worked with Piscataquis County EMA to draft the community’s first emergency operations plan. She said the biggest concern is there is just one road into the community and one bridge, on the Lily Bay Road. Should the overpass be cut off then the town needs to have a plan.

The EMA director said Beaver Cove officials also want to have a warming/cooling center and a place to shelter residents if needed. Duggan said the agency will work with the town to get dry hydrants and to designate a LifeFlight landing zone.

Williams said he wanted the commissioners to be aware that he received a call from the director of Patten Ambulance Services, seeking an increase in what the county pays for coverage of a remote part of Piscataquis County.

Williams said Patten Ambulance Service covers T5 R9 and R10 and T6 R9 and R10 in the north end of Baxter State Park as well as T7 R9 and R10 north of the park boundary.

“Supposedly Patten has been doing ambulance service up there for 20 years with no compensation,” he said.

The county manager said he is waiting to hear back from the head ranger on how many emergency calls come from this portion of Baxter State Park. Williams said this is the first he has heard from Patten Ambulance Service in his two years on the job, and he could not find any records of communication from the last two decades.

“He’s requesting [$12,000] without telling me how many calls he’s getting,” Williams said. “What he wants for that area is more than we play for the rest of the county.”

Currently the county contracts with Three Rivers Ambulance of Milo, Northern Light CA Dean Hospital of Greenville, and with Millinocket Fire and Rescue for emergency services in the nearby Piscataquis County Unorganized Territories.

By Sawyer Loftus, Bangor Daily News Staff

Investigators are still piecing together how a man who went missing in LaGrange in June died before a hunter found his body more than five months later on the day after Thanksgiving.

The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office on Monday confirmed that the body a hunter found in the woods off Howland Road in LaGrange on Nov. 26 belonged to 32-year-old Nicholas Cross.

Cross was reported missing on June 15, and was found about a mile from where he was last seen, according to Lt. James Ellis of the sheriff’s office.

The state medical examiner’s office confirmed the remains belonged to Cross and performed an exam on his body, but has not yet determined a cause of death, according to Lindsey Chasteen, a spokesperson for the office.

The medical examiner’s office notified Cross’ family last week.

Cross was reported missing after he jumped out of his sister’s car on Howland Road in LaGrange while on the way to Lincoln and ran away.

Casey Cross, Nick’s sister, said in August that she was trying to get her brother to the hospital after he experienced a bad reaction to a substance he had taken the previous day.

A woman who lives nearby later saw Nicholas Cross lying in her yard, Casey Cross said. He disappeared after she went inside to call 911, according to his sister.

The Maine Warden Service conducted several searches throughout the summer and early fall but found no sign of Nicholas Cross, Ellis said.

The sheriff’s office is still investigating his disappearance and death, he said.

A former school board member, teacher and coach from Milo will serve nine months and one day in prison for sex crimes involving a former student, according to the district attorney’s office.

Herbert Russell Carey Jr., 70, of Milo was sentenced today at the Piscataquis Judicial Center in Dover-Foxcroft to three years in prison, with all but nine months and one day suspended, along with two years probation.

Carey, who was a teacher and tennis coach at Penquis Valley High School and served on the boards of SAD 40 and AOS 73 until March, pleaded guilty to six counts of gross sexual assault, a Class C felony crime. The effects of the crimes on the victim and on teachers’ reputations make the case significant, according to Assistant District Attorney R. Christopher Almy.

“He went to jail today, and he will have to serve his time at a department corrections facility as opposed to the county jail,” Almy said.

Carey was indicted Oct. 21 by the Piscataquis County grand jury for the sex crimes, which allegedly occurred in 2015 and 2016. If Carey were to violate the conditions of his probation, he could be sent back to prison for up to three years.

The offenses involved a female student when she was a junior and senior, Almy said in August, when Carey was arrested and first charged with the sex crimes.

The victim, who is now 23, notified police in May, Almy said. She told them her ongoing relationship with Carey involved touching and sexual acts during the last part of her junior year and throughout her senior year, he said Monday.

The victim also told police some of the sexual acts occured in a hidden corner of a study hall room and on a road behind the school in Milo, according to information Almy provided. Some also took place at Carey’s camp on Schoodic Lake, he said.

The victim graduated from Penquis Valley High School in 2016, and her relationship with Carey continued until 2018, Almy said.

“It was a significant case because the defendant abused his trust and standing as a teacher to take advantage of a vulnerable student,” he said. “His actions affected his victim and those effects will last a long time.”

Carey also damaged the reputation of hardworking teachers “who work tirelessly in our communities to nurture healthy children,” Almy said.

Carey served as the Milo representative on the board of SAD 41, which serves Brownville, Lagrange and Milo, from 2018 until March, when he chose not to run for reelection. He also served from 2019 until March on the board of AOS 43, serving those three towns as well as Edinburg, Enfield, Howland, Maxfield and Passadumkeag.

Police interviewed Carey in May, when he initially said he knew the victim from school and had not seen her for a few years. Carey later told investigators that his sexual relationship with the victim began when she was 16 and continued until she was in college.

Carey said sex occurred in his bedroom, at his camp and in vehicles, Almay said. He told police he had been in love with the victim.

Carey’s attorney, Stephen Smith of Augusta, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

BDN reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this report.

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

MILO – The Penquis Valley High girls held visiting Searsport District High School scoreless for the entire fourth quarter – after an 11-point outburst in the third – to preserve the team’s slim lead during a mutual opener between the Class C North programs on Dec. 13. The Patriots went from leading 25-23 after the third quarter to winning by a final score of 30-23.

Neither team could make a basket in the final 8-minute session before Penquis sophomore Addison Conklin’s jumper upped the advantage to 27-23. Conklin led the Patriots with nine points on the night, including four field goals on jump shots.

OPENING NIGHT WIN – Penquis junior Rachel Brossard looks for her shot against Searsport senior Kyla Perkins (20) and eighth-grader Julianna Sprague (23) during the mutual 2021 opener in Milo on Dec. 13. Penquis won 30-23 as the team held the visitors scoreless in the fourth quarter.

After a miss at the other end on a 1-and-1, Searsport would be 0-for-4 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, a Vikings’ timeout stopped the clock with just under five minutes remaining. Penquis then displayed patience with the Patriot five on the floor passing the ball around the perimeter to look for the ideal shot and run time off the scoreboard.

Searsport would have a chance to make up the deficit by being in the bonus at the 2:26 mark, but two misses kept the Patriots ahead by multiple possessions. Later Penquis got into the bonus and a foul shot from Conklin made the score 28-23 with 1:46 to go.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
DRIVE TO THE HOOP – Sophomore Addison Conklin gets past Searsport sophomore Emily Mello, with Patriot junior Jessica Broussard looking on. Conklin led her team with nine points.

After several scoreless possessions for both teams, Aileen Strout’s jump shot made the score 30-23 right before a Searsport timeout with 30.9 seconds left to play and the outcome settled.

Late in the second quarter Penquis broke open an 11-11 score with an 8-1 run to close out the first half. The Patriots ended up scoring 28 of the team’s 30 total points on shots from the floor inside the 3-point line and the starters also accounted for 28 of 30 points for a balanced effort.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
OUTRUNNING THE OPPOSITION – Patriot junior Jessica Broussard breaks away from the Searsport defense for a lay-up during the second quarter on Dec. 13.

In the 8-1 run junior Rachel Broussard, Conklin, and junior Aileen Strout all had jumpers and junior Jessica Broussard picked up the other two by driving to the hoop and bouncing the ball off the glass for a lay-up.

The two teams are scheduled to play again in Searsport at 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 21.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
PRESSURE SITUATION – Senior Angela Bryden presses Searsport eighth-grader Julianna Sprague after she made the defensive rebound.


Penquis 30

Searsport 23

SRP 6 6 11 0 | 23

PEN 6 13 6 5 | 30

Searsport (0-1): Sprague 10,

Perkins 5, Bagley 4,

Mello 2, Warman 2.

Penquis (1-0); Conklin 9,

Strout 8, Bryden 7,

N. Ali 2, J. Broussard 2,

R. Broussard 2,

MILO – SAD 41 students and staff will be starting the holiday vacation a day early later this month. The last day of classes will now be a half day on Tuesday, Dec. 21, instead of on Dec. 22 as was originally planned.

Superintendent Michael Wright told the school board during a Zoom meeting Dec. 8 that he has been asked about the district making a change to its calendar as SAD 46 in Dexter and the Dover-Foxcroft-based RSU 68 both recently opted to take the entire week before Christmas off.

He said SAD 46 made the decision to cancel classes for Dec. 20-22 as the district calendar allowed for 178 days of classes, three more than is required by the state.

Wright said the SAD 41 calendar is at 175 days. “If we did that we would have to make them up in the spring,” he said about simply canceling the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday sessions.

The superintendent said another issue would be the daily salary of hourly SAD 41 employees, including ed techs, food service workers, custodians, and bus drivers. He said hourly wages and other related expenses total about $10,000 a day, so three days would be $30,000.

Business Manager Heidi Sisco said there are nearly 80 hourly employees.

Erika Landry, co-president of the district’s education association, said members were polled about their preference in having either the three days off with the understanding these would need to be made up. Of 57 responders, 38 were in favor and 19 were opposed.

“A lot of us were concerned about the hourly employees and that compensation time,” Landry said.

“Schools would do this out of concern for staff, but it doesn’t seem like a Merry Christmas for hourly employees to lose three days pay,” Wright said.

The superintendent said he has not heard back from the Department of Education on whether days could be waived from the 175 total to allow for an early break. “I don’t think they would approve a waiver for an extended break, even though it’s a nice gesture for employees,” he said.

Wright said another option would be to move the last day of classes up to Tuesday, Dec. 22. A teacher in-service day in March would become a day of classes to keep the total at 175.

“We thought that would be a nice gesture to employees but not put employees in a position to not get paid for three days,” he said. “The other part of this, which I didn’t mention, is the impact on families.”

Board member Sam Foss expressed concern that the hourly employees were not polled. Wright said the superintendent could conduct such a survey and, if directed by the directors, could make a decision on an early vacation start.

Once all the data was in, the decision was made by the central office for the half day on Tuesday, Dec. 21, with the announcement made late in the day on district school Facebook pages on Dec. 9.

In other business, District Nurse Bethany Heal provided an update on COVID-19 numbers.

She said there are nearly 40 cases between students and staff. “A lot of it is amongst families so siblings have increased the numbers,” Heal said.

Students being diagnosed have experienced symptoms such as fever, sniffles, a mild cough  and headaches, Heal siad. “I haven’t known any needing medical treatment because of it,” she said.

Heal mentioned vaccination clinics for 5- to 11-year-olds are scheduled for Dec. 17 at district schools.

Wright said district officials are unsure when OSHA vaccination policies will need to be implemented but they are making preparations.

He said one option would be to require vaccinations among staff, with medical and religious exemptions in place. The other, preferred option for SAD 41, is for employees to show proof of vaccination or take part in weekly testing with everyone masking, which they are already doing under universal mask policies for the district.

“We think that’s more palpable, more reasonable,” the superintendent said about the second option.

“Again, we don’t know when this is coming,” Wright said. “We may have to adopt something on an emergency basis.” He said the procedure of multiple readings of policy can be waived if needed.

Brownville Elementary Principal Carol Smith said several members of the Valley Grange visited campus for the annual Words for Thirds Dictionary Project a week prior during the morning of Dec. 1. Now in its 20th year, the Valley Grange has given nearly 3,000 dictionaries to area third-graders over two decades.

“We kind of did it outside this year, through the window,” Smith said. Grange members spoke to students from the sidewalk as the dictionaries were presented.

“It was a fun day for everybody,” Smith said, with those involved making the most of the COVID restrictions.