GRPS strongly recommending masks indoors for 2021-2022 school year

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools announced Wednesday that it will strongly recommend masks indoors for its students, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, for the 2021-2022 school year.

During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, the district discussed coronavirus mitigation protocols.

Masks will not need to be wore outdoors during recess or learning activities that take place outside.

“It’s recommended, not required. And we will not be policing this unless or until the health officials strengthen their mandate and actually issue a mandate or order. We’re going to continue to follow what their guidance is and their guidance is that they recommend, not require or mandate at this time,” GRPS spokesperson John Helmholdt said.

Helmholdt added that the current plan is subject to change as coronavirus trends and guidance from health officials evolve. GRPS says it will motor data on a daily basis and is prepared to make a pivot in its plan if needed.

“We as a district will continue to put the safety of our students and staff first,” Helmholdt said.

In addition to the mask recommendation, the district is “strongly encouraging” all who are eligible to get vaccinated for coronavirus.

Plans for athletics were not clear during the press conference, but Helmholdt said the district will be following guidance from the Michigan High School Athletic Association and the state and county health departments.

Daily health screenings will not be required for students and staff. If someone is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, they should stay home.

Masks will be required on school and city buses, which are federally mandated.

The district said it’s excited to return to five days of in-person learning.

“It’s just the joy and excitement that we’re already hearing from the kids and the staff. They’re ready to get back to as much a degree of normalcy as possible,” Helmholdt said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended masks in schools for everyone regardless of whether they are vaccinated. Health officials have noted that a large portion of schools’ population is under the age of 12 and therefore can’t get vaccinated.

Kalamazoo Public Schools decided in May to require masks for the upcoming school year. Fall will mark the first time Kalamazoo students are learning in person since March 2020.

MDHHS PROMOTES ‘LAYERED’ STRATEGY

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday released its guidance for schools, urging districts to follow the CDC’s recommendations and implement “layers” of mitigation protocols including promoting getting vaccinated, wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, managing screening and testing and making sure buildings are ventilated as well as possible.

“Because the school environment brings together groups of individuals who cannot be fully vaccinated, a variety of COVID-19 prevention measures can be adopted to operate schools more safely. These strategies can be tailored based on building, district, and community needs. The main goal of implementing prevention measures is to protect students, teachers, and staff, and maintain in-person learning,” a release from MDHHS read in part. “…All prevention strategies provide some level of protection, and layered strategies implemented at the same time provide the greatest level of protection.”

The guidance adds that districts should consider the rate of spread of the virus and vaccination rates in their communities when deciding what rules to put in place, as well as the ages of children within any particular building.

The recommendations are just that — recommendations, not a mandate. They represent essentially the same advice MDHHS issued in June for districts to operate summer schools.

MASK GUIDANCE OUTSIDE OF SCHOOLS

The CDC also recommended that everyone regardless of vaccination status wear a mask indoors in coronavirus hot spots. That guidance came as many parts of the country see surges associated with the highly transmissible delta variant.

Michigan as a whole is seeing an increase in cases, though rates overall remain fairly low, as does the number of hospitalizations. Parts of the state are considered at a substantial or high level for community transmission, including most southwestern Michigan counties.

Statewide, 63.8% of the population age 16 and up had received at least one vaccine dose as of Tuesday. That figure was 58.5% for the population age 12 and up.

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