Parents bring school mask debate to Ottawa County board meeting

Ottawa County

WEST OLIVE, Mich. (WOOD) — The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners held a meeting Tuesday to discuss mask mandates in schools.

The Ottawa County Department of Public Health has recently issued public health orders requiring masks to be worn by students inside preschool through sixth grade schools. It is one of four health departments in the area to mandate masks for that age group.

The meeting started with health officials trying to explain why they made that decision.

“We tried to impose the least restrictive order,” Ottawa County Health Officer Lisa Stefanonvsky said. “I do believe the state should be the one making the mandate at this point, almost the entire state is in the category of high transmission right now.”

Hundreds of people showed up to the meeting. All but a few voiced their displeasure at the mandate and demanded the county reverse its decision regarding the mask mandate. Some people waited for six hours to speak during public comment.

“Very frustrating,” Kari Zwagerman, a concerned parent, said. “My son was a supposed to start school today and we decided not to send him. This is not something we’re planned for or prepared. My heart is breaking for teachers and schools who just got word of this on Friday.”

The mandate will remain in effect until 60 days after a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for children as young as preschool or until counties are considered at low risk for virus spread by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for at least a week.

“It’s the mental health I’m concerned about,” said Alan Groenendyk, a concerned parent in attendance. “Not being able to relate to each other, not being able to know who their friends are because you can only see their eyes, not being able to develop socially as well as verbally because you’re missing out on those cues.”

Though small in numbers, there were a few people who showed support for the mask rules.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic with rising cases of COVID-19 due to delta variant,” said a parent via Zoom supporting the mask mandate. “The CDC, the FDA and World Health Organization all show that wearing masks indoors helps control the spread of this virus. With the delta variant, there are more cases in children than there have been with previous variants of this disease.”

News 8 asked to speak with board members after the meeting ended and was informed by a deputy that Board Chair Roger Bergman will issue a statement on Wednesday.

— News 8’s Madalyn Buursma contributed to this report.

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