Grosse Pointe, Livonia schools wade into mask debate as Whitmer refuses to order mandate

It might have felt like groundhog day for the board members at Grosse Pointe schools as parents descended on another Monday meeting ready to speak their mind. And they did.

"This masks-optional policy is an embarrassment to our community," said one parent wearing a mask.

"America has always been a country based on freedom so we should be free to choose whether we want to wear a mask, or don't want to wear a mask," said another not wearing a mask.

Grosse Pointe schools had originally sided on the optional side of wearing a mask. Even while the Michigan health department, the CDC, and several studies have shown that masking in schools will cut down on the number of new infections, whether districts should wear masks is a decision they should make on their own. 

But Grosse Pointe has also noted the fluidity of the situation and says it could change policy if COVID-19 numbers change.

"This is our last opportunity to rise to the level of pure districts like Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Ann Arbor, and Forest Hills, and rejoin them as leaders," said the first parent. "Stop passing the buck, act in accordance with your oath."

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There was no shortage of opinions in Livonia last night either, where the charged topic led to some people offering their own take, despite not having any children in the district. 

"I do not want my child in a mask," said one woman. "He is in third grade, he needs to see his friends' faces, see their smiles, interact, be rambunctious outside at recess, and have a great time without a mask."

"I can tell you as a health care provider, we're all pretty exhausted," said another parent. "It has been quite a time. I am here to say masks work, they help prevent the spread of this terrible disease and it is not really a personal choice at this point.  It is a community choice - and it is a choice to protect everyone else."

So far, the school trustees don't plan to vote on the issue and will instead come to a general consensus before the district as a whole will decide. 

COVID-19 numbers are rising in Michigan. So are hospitalizations. The early fall outlook appears to be grim without more protective measures in place, according to a health department presentation last week.

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While her chief medical officer did tell reporters she had recommended masks would improve the coronavirus situation in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer doubled down Monday that she would not be taking action on mandating masks in schools.

There are "no plans" for "broad mandates," including mask mandates, Whitmer said. Instead, it's up to districts to make decisions at the local level. 

According to a study reviewed by the health department last week, without any masking, a child's chance of contracting COVID-19 climbs to 50% in less than three hours. But with complete masking, that timeline is extended to 120 hours.

The emergence of the Delta variant has complicated the 2021 summer and plans for a healthy and smooth transition into the fall school year. The mutation can spread faster, through vaccinated groups, and appears to be infecting and hospitalizing kids at higher rates than at other points of the pandemic