Ann Arbor schools plan to keep mask mandate - despite Washtenaw County lifting it

As Covid cases fall, many local health departments are planning to lift mask mandates in schools by the end of the month. But in some districts like Ann Arbor -- school leaders say the mandate and masks - will remain.

"Our stakes are high we have children in our charge – so we take that responsibility very seriously," said Dr. Jeanice Shift.

That's why Dr. Shift, the superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, says despite Washtenaw County dropping the mask mandate, she isn't ready to do the same for students in her district.

A letter went out to parents Friday saying they will continue to follow federal and state health recommendations of universal masking, until numbers improve.

"We are looking for our own cases in our schools, in particular in those situations where we are seeing clusters of cases in schools - we are looking for those numbers to come down," she said. "We report those numbers every Friday, so we are keeping a close eye every day on those numbers. And we're also looking at those county numbers."

Shift appreciates the opportunity to require masks depending on their own infection and vaccination rates, but Kathleen Lucas one of the leaders of the Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools, believes the decision should be left to public health officials.

"I know no one asked for the situation, nobody is happy about it, nobody likes it," she said. "But we can’t return to a normal that isn’t here anymore."

Lucas' two vaccinated young children still wear masks to Hudsonville Public Schools near Grand Rapids, although they haven't been required since January. Shortly after, her kids became infected with Covid.

Right now MiPASS - the bi-partisan parent group, feels there is not enough data about re-infection rates. It is still asking districts to follow CDC and MDHHS recommendations to mask up indoors,.despite research that has shown masks are impacting the education of young children.

"Children who are immunocompromised or live with someone who is immunocompromised, their right to be in school at all, should trump everyone else’s ability to see faces for six hours," Lucas said.

On February 28th, when the health order is lifted, some districts are giving students a choice whether to mask up.

Because the number one priority is to keep kids in the classroom, Shift says they plan to take this step-by-step and consider the next step as soon as the infection rates in her district are no longer in the high range.

"I know we are all looking forward to the day when maybe we will be able to remove masks at school," she said. "We're not quite there yet."

Although virus numbers have dropped, she said that they show that it continues to spread across all counties, especially Washtenaw.