Mask mandates topic of school board meetings in West Michigan

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As kids are heading back to the classroom, parents started the school year at board meetings Monday night to express their views on the mask requirements in place for their students.

Since the Kalamazoo County Health Department announced a mask mandate last week, Schoolcraft Community Schools board members and its superintendent wanted to hear feedback from parents.

Inside the Schoolcraft High School gym, varying perspectives were shared in the special meeting on whether the district would follow or defy KCHD’s mask mandate.

While no one from the health department was in attendance despite an invitation, parents came in numbers to share their opinion on the matter.

Those against the mandate, including Jamie Bent, a mother of three Schoolcraft-area elementary students, argued they want to have the choice of what they say is best for their kids.

“If that’s what your family wants to do, do it,” Bent said. “But don’t tell me how to raise my family.”

Wade Thompson, who has one son in the district, believes risk assessment should be given to individual families.

“There are risks for everybody,” Thompson argued. “But we as parents should decide what that risk is going to be.”

On the other hand, parents for the mandate support it because it avoids liability and the risk of being forced back to virtual learning.

“You have a choice of lesser of two evils: Kids stay in school and wear masks … (Or) when they don’t, you have the chance to go back to virtual learning,” Mitch, a Schoolcraft father, said. “Who wants that?”

Lindsay Gignac, another Schoolcraft parent and supporter of the mandate, is a nurse at Bronson Methodist Hospital.

“Wear a mask, social distance, wash our hands, vaccinate if you can … that’s how we’re going to get these masks off our faces,” Gignac said.

Following the public comment period, board members met in a closed session with legal counsel. Twenty-four minutes ultimately led to a recommendation from Superintendent Rick Frens for the district to comply with the mask mandate.

However, the recommendation also included a formal request addressed to the Kalamazoo County health department to disclose information regarding pediatric COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the 5- to 18-year-old age group, which Frens said is the “core demographic” of their district.

“We don’t want to put our kids in danger. We want to be responsible for our kids,” Frens said. “But right now, we just don’t have that full data picture to support or not support the health department mandate.”

According to Frens, the district believes in parent-choice, though the mandate does not allow for noncompliance. The district also said students, staff and parents who aren’t wearing masks will not be confronted or excluded.

Schoolcraft Community Schools head back to the classroom next week beginning with a half day Aug. 30.

ROCKFORD BOARD MEETING RELOCATED DUE TO TURNOUT

In Kent County, Rockford Public Schools originally planned to make masks optional for students but are now requiring masks for all students sixth grade and under who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

The Kent County Health Department on Friday issued a county-wide mask mandate for students preschool through sixth grade.

So many parents wanted to chime in on the issue that the school moved its meeting to the high school. The meeting started at 5:30 p.m. and didn’t end until around 10 p.m. The overwhelming majority of parents spoke against the mask mandate.

“This information did not come from the legislature; it is rogue health departments. Stiffen your spines and stand up. You can tell them no,” one parent who was against the mandate said.

Several people were there in support of the mask mandate.

“Our only saving grace right now is the vaccine,” said one parent after she spoke about the risks that the delta variant poses.

For every person who supported students getting the vaccine and wearing masks in school, multiple others did not support the requirements.

“Our school board is only responsible for the education period, which they lack on. We are responsible for our biological property, which is our children. So, stand up,” another parent said.

The room erupted in applause every time a parent spoke about wanting to have the choice to mask their children. Some people called for school members to lose their jobs if they didn’t drop the mandate.

“If the school board is not responsive, recall them. If the school board is not responsive, vote them out,” another parent said as during the public comment section.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers Kent County at high risk of transmission. A small group of masked parents continued pleading with the board to follow the experts.

“False equivalence and the anti-intellectualism cannot prevail in this school. We must follow the experts like the AAP, the AAFP, the CDC, MDHHS and Kent County Health Department,” said a parent in favor of masking elementary students.

Several parents said they are or have pulled their students out of RPS as a result of the mask requirement.

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