In a tense meeting, the Michigan State Board of Education passed a resolution that essentially took a hands-off approach to whether local districts should adopt mask mandates at the start of the new school year.
In a sometimes fiery day-long session, the board met on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming school year as debate over how to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom intensifies at national scale. Council members were present in person, while members of the public spoke virtually.
“We spent a year putting children first because we didn’t know what was going on with this virus,” Macomb County commentator Sheila Cohoon told the board. “We keep hearing ‘following science’, but the purpose of science keeps changing.”
For nearly three hours, public commentators from across the state spoke out on mask warrants, vaccines, critical race theory, and even the use of cellphones and laptops by council members. administration while public comments were heard. Commentators also perpetuated the myths about the masks and vaccines, at times becoming argumentative and angry throughout the meeting.
In a formal discussion on the reopening, the board debated the position on mandatory masks in schools – separate from the actual requirement for masks. Council members ultimately passed a resolution supporting decisions made by local school districts, including mask mandates. In all cases, the mandates belong to each district and each school.
Some parents have threatened to remove their children from public schools if masks or vaccines were mandatory in their local districts.
The dramatic comment period during the meeting highlighted the now familiar battles at local public education meetings during the pandemic.
Schools are planning for fall at breakneck speed: Detroit’s public school community district on Tuesday approved a detailed reopening plan with safety precautions.
In this coming school year, the stakes seem even higher for many parents, for aggravated reasons: a more contagious delta variant of the virus, no vaccinations available for young children, and school regression due to months – and in some cases more than a year – from virtual school.
“I myself have lost faith in the public school system,” a parent told the board.
Confusion over masks, vaccines
A public comment period scheduled to last 15 minutes instead lasted two hours and 55 minutes. At one point, council members argued over when to cut comments, talking to each other.
“You stung a sleeping bear,” said Tom McMillin, Republican board member and former state lawmaker. “They are furious and they want to be heard.”
McMillin also called mitigation measures, such as masks, “child abuse.” McMillin did not further explain why he viewed the measures as abusive. In an email later, he wrote that schools forcing children to wear masks constitutes child abuse, when the risk of contracting COVID-19 for children is low.
The risk of contracting the virus is lower for children, according to Harvard Health. However, serious and life-threatening inflammatory disease has been observed in some children.
The most passionate comments revolved around the school mandates for masks and vaccines. Some districts, such as Ann Arbor Public Schools, have mandatory masks inside for each student and staff member regardless of immunization status, while other districts have made masks an option.
In several cases, council members said they did not have the power to demand vaccines or masks in schools.
“We are not doing that, it is a function of the governor,” said Tiffany Tilley, member of the Democratic board of directors. She later added in an apparent response to McMillin’s comment: “Wearing a mask is not abuse.”
It does not appear that any school district in Michigan has mandated vaccinations for students or staff.
At least a dozen commentators have repeated myths about the use of the mask that have been debunked. The masks do not present a danger for the wearers and does not cause a dangerous build-up of carbon dioxide. While many meeting attendees said they believe the masks don’t work, several studies have shown that masks are effective when used with other preventive measures, such as hand washing and vaccines.
The CDC recommends that students and staff wear masks inside the school this fall, regardless of their immunization status.
However, parents said sending their children back to school with masks was a choice.
“Parents have to be the bosses of what is best for their children,” Anna Penola, a mother of four who lives in Brighton, told the meeting.
A parent who identified as Laura, from Bloomfield Hills, was one of the few to support school mask mandates. More than 2000 people have signed a change.org petition asking health officials in the state or county of Oakland to demand masks in schools.
“Universal masking is imperative when we return to school face to face,” she said.
Detroit Public Schools Fall Reopening Plans
On Tuesday evening, the Detroit Public School Board approveda detailed plan for the fall reopening. The Detroit Public Schools Community District is Michigan’s largest school district, with nearly 50,000 students.
- Masks mandatory indoors in any building on campus, regardless of vaccination status.
- Weekly saliva test for staff members.
- Physical distance of at least 3 feet between students.
- Search for contacts.
- Mandatory daily symptom and temperature checks.