LANSING — Despite a recommendation from the state’s top health official, the State Board of Education and the governor are still not mandating masks in schools.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun has issued a recommendation for the state to issue a mask mandate in schools.
“I have recommended that if a mask mandate were in place and it were followed, it would likely decrease the spread of COVID-19 in schools,” she said. “I’ve said it before, I’m concerned about what has happened and what could happen with our schools.”
With the Delta variant running rampant throughout communities and children not being eligible for vaccinations yet, many states are already closing schools due to the spread of COVID-19, including at least four different school districts in Texas, a school district in Florida with 8,000 students in quarantine, a school district in Alabama having nearly 6,000 cases and a district in Georgia with approximately 4,000 cases.
In a recent meeting, the Michigan State Board of Education passed a resolution taking a hands-off approach and allowing local districts to make their own decisions regarding mask mandates for the new school year, even though the CDC recommends students and staff members wear masks indoors in school, regardless of vaccination status.
The same day the State Board of Education made its decision, the Detroit Public Schools’ board approved a full reopening plan.
The Detroit Public Schools Community District is the state’s largest district, with nearly 50,000 students.
The plan includes mandatory masks indoors in any campus building, regardless of vaccine status, weekly saliva testing of staff members, physical distancing of at least 3 feet between students, contact tracing and mandatory daily symptom and temperature checks.
The Hamtramck School District (HPS) also announced that it will be requiring masks be worn by staff and students, in classrooms and on school buses.
I’ve said it before, I’m concerned about what has happened and what could happen with our schools. — Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive
HPS announced it will be open five days a week for in-person learning for the new school year. It also said it is allowing families to continue online schooling by providing a virtual option, with the district asking parents to make a commitment to the online option by Aug. 20.
The district said its school year rules may change based on the spread of the virus and recommendations from public health officials.
Both Dearborn Heights’ District 7 and Crestwood School Districts have said that they will leave the option of wearing masks up to parents and staff for now, but will adapt as they see fit.
Dearborn Public Schools has not yet confirmed its back-to-school plans for the fall.
“At this time, there are not any plans to enact additional public health orders,” Chelsea Wuth, associate public information officer at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, (MDHHS) told The Arab American News. “We have provided guidance to schools to help them keep staff and students safe during in-person learning and recommendations on when Michiganders should consider wearing masks to protect themselves and others. We continue to monitor CDC guidance and will update our recommendations as necessary.”
MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said that despite the rising cases and mounting frustrations, there are no plans to reinstate any COVID-19 restrictions at this time.
“There are no plans to implement any statewide gatherings or masking orders at this time,” she said. “We know right now that the best tool we have to fight COVID is the safe, effective vaccine.”
In response to Khaldun’s statements, the governor’s office released its own statement on the matter.
“As school districts prepare for the upcoming school year, it is our hope that schools will offer in-person instruction by putting in place appropriate mitigation measures,” the statement read. “While the vast majority of middle school and high school students are eligible for the safe and effective vaccines, we know that face coverings can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect younger students who do not have access to the vaccine yet.
“As Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said, these smart public health protocols are only effective if everyone works together to protect each other. That’s why school districts and local health departments should work together to put in place universal mask policies to keep students safe and ensure that in-person learning can continue this year. Right now, nearly 60 school districts have made the choice to have face coverings this school year, which accounts for more than 250,000 students across the state. We know what works to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that we can all safely get back to normal.”