Citing increased risk, some local districts requiring masks

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools is changing course, saying it will require masks for all students, staff and visitors during the upcoming school year. Other West Michigan schools have put in similar requirements.

The district said Monday that everyone in all K-12 buildings, regardless of vaccination status, will have to wear a mask effective Tuesday. Limited exceptions may be made for people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing one.

Less than two weeks ago, West Michigan’s largest district had said it was “strongly recommending” masks but not requiring them. It attributed the change in guidance to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upping Kent County’s risk level for virus spread to “substantial.”

GRPS said it may revisit its mask rules on or before Sept. 20.

Superintendent Dr. Leadriane Roby said the change is a data-driven decision.

“I’m learning that I should not be predicting much of anything and I want to make sure I’m looking at the data that we have at the moment,” Roby said. “But we want to make sure that we get off to a positive start for students and our staff and then to see what the trends say.”

The mandate was met with praise from many parents attending the school board meeting Monday evening.

“I’ll just start by saying, thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” one GRPS mom said during the meeting. 

Another parent got emotional when speaking before the board, saying the mask requirement will add an extra layer of protection for his immunocompromised daughter.

“Because of the mandate, we believe that she can continue to be safe,” the father said.

The board also heard from a handful of parents who criticized the mandate.

“Since we can’t predict the future, wouldn’t it be better to start out with a good long-term plan such as parents choosing what’s best for their students,” one GRPS mother said. 

Roby said the district will make “the very best decision” for the whole organization.

“We will continue to work closely with our county health officials throughout this time and monitor the data to determine if it will be extended further,” Superintendent Leadriane Roby said in a Monday statement.

Also on Monday, Forest Hills Public Schools announced that masks will be required inside buildings for students pre-K through sixth grade and anyone of any age who isn’t vaccinated.

Holland Public Schools said face coverings will be required indoors for all of its staff, students and visitor. The district is also encouraging those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated.

Federal mandates require mask wearing on buses regardless of vaccination status.

Last week, the Kent County Health Department and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services both said they were strongly urging districts to institute universal masking, citing increasing case numbers driven by the highly transmissible delta variant — though both agencies also stopped short of an order. MDHHS said masks were a key part of a layered mitigation strategy.

“Like everyone else, I want to see schools open for in-person instruction and other activities without interruption. Our very best chance for that to happen is if schools, parents, and children embrace the strategies that have been proven to be effective,” Kent County Administrative Health Officer Adam London said in a statement.

The CDC has also recommended masks in schools.

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