BYRON CENTER, MI – After months of contentious debates over school mask mandates, some West Michigan parents are continuing to push back against mask requirements in local school districts after the state health department announced masks are recommended but no longer required for fully vaccinated people in school settings.
Michigan changed its mask mandate last week to allow fully vaccinated people to not wear masks in most settings, but health officials still recommend that everybody mask up in specific settings, including schools, regardless of vaccination status.
“Because most students remain unvaccinated, schools and child care providers should continue to follow the COVID-19 prevention strategies … for at least the remainder of the 2020-2021 academic school year, including masking when indoors,” the document says.
But some parents at Byron Center Public Schools say “enough is enough” when it comes to masks being required in the classroom. The Kent County district is continuing to mandate masks through the end of the school year based on recommendations from local and state health officials, superintendent Kevin Macina said.
Byron Center parent Mike DeBoer said he thinks the district should have dropped its mask mandates as soon as they were no longer required by the health department.
“They should be getting rid of it immediately, even though we only have a couple of weeks of school left, every school in the country or state should be limiting (mask rules),” he said.
“It’s not up to the states and up to schools to tell me what to do with my kids or how to handle their health or wellbeing.”
DeBoer said he is fearful masks are more detrimental to students’ mental health and academic performance than they are protective against the coronavirus.
“It’d be different if kids all over the country, all over the state, were dropping dead in the streets (from COVID), but they’re not,” he said. “And that’s why this has to end. I’m afraid of the irreparable damage we’re doing to these kids.”
The father of two said he’s seen those damages play out firsthand in his own two sons.
“My wife and I have a kid in fourth grade and one in seventh grade, and hearing their stories when they come home, about no mask breaks, it’s getting crazy and out of hand,” he said.
DeBoer said his sons have recently received medical exemptions to the mask mandates, and the two boys have since been doing much better in school.
“My son came home the day after he got the exemption, and said, ‘Dad, I can’t believe how much easier it is for me to focus, I could just concentrate on my school and not worry about if my masks is up or down,’” he said.
Deboer said he has spoken out against mask mandates at several school board meetings in the past few weeks, but that he doesn’t feel administrators have listened to parents’ pleas.
Byron Center is one of many school districts across the state that have received parent opposition to mask requirements, along with other districts like Hudsonville, Howell, Brighton and Bad Axe.
Macina said despite pushback from some parents, the district is going to continue to listen to the guidance of health experts amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We have been going along with the guidelines that not only the Kent County Health Department’s been putting out, but also the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and then also watching what’s happening with the CDC,” Macina said.
“They have all said the recommendation of staying with masks until the end of the school year, and that’s what we’ve done in Byron Center. And I would say that’s what most of Kent County school districts are doing too.”
Some parents are planning to speak about the mask mandate during the district’s Monday, May 24 school board meeting. The meeting will take place at 5:20 p.m. at the Van Singel Fine Arts Center, 8500 Burlingame Ave.
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