Split public opinion on mask mandates has put Michigan’s school board members and administrators between a rock and a hard place.
As school doors reopened earlier this month, the divide between those for and against masks has triggered protests in several communities.
In Manchester, Michigan, a small town near Ann Arbor, a group of roughly two dozen maskless students pushed past administrators and entered their high school at the start of the school day on Sept. 7, the day their county health department’s mask mandate went into effect.
The protest was recorded on video and shared widely on social media. A deputy from the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office could be seen telling the protesting students and parents in front of the school about the health department’s requirement to wear a mask.
“I’m not going to force anybody. I’m not putting a mask on anybody. That’s not my job,” said the deputy.
The Sheriff’s Office explained the officer’s conduct in a statement: “Law enforcement is there to keep the peace, help keep people calm, to de-escalate situations, to explain and to advise. We are not there to cite people for a public health violation.”
Upon entering the school, the maskless students were asked to separate from mask-wearing students and sit in a room together to do their school work. They complied without incident.
That evening, Manchester Superintendent of Schools Brad Bezeau sent a memo to the community, saying of the health department’s mask mandate, “These orders, authorized under the Michigan Public Health Code, will be followed by the school district. … All students will be required to adhere to these orders in order to attend our schools.”
The next day, there was no protest.
An eighth-grade girl from Fenton Area Public Schools near Flint, Michigan, refused to put on a mask for school on Sept. 7.
The girl’s father, Scott Heemstra of Fenton, wrote in a Facebook post, “When she entered the [school] office, she was told that if she won’t put a mask on, she needs to leave the building.”
Heemstra told The Epoch Times, “She was sent home for refusing to be forced to do something she isn’t comfortable with. I’m proud of our little girl. She knew her rights and said she wants to be an example to others.
“Everybody needs to stand up for our rights as outlined in the Constitution. They are being stripped from us,” Heemstra said.
Fenton Schools didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pro-mask-mandate parents have organized rallies in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Kalamazoo, and Kent counties.
A statewide person-to-person telephone survey of 600 parents with children in public schools conducted by the Glengariff Group of Lansing found that 54.5 percent of those surveyed believe parents should make the decision about mask-wearing for their child.
Paradoxically, the survey, conducted between August 23–26, reported that 49.4 percent of those polled favored requiring mask-wearing by students and school employees, while 45.3 percent opposed the requirement. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, with a 95 percent level of confidence.
Party affiliation, location, and race were important factors in the survey. Among those identifying as “Strong Democrats,” 89.9 percent support mask requirements, while only 14.3 percent of “Strong Republicans” favor them.
Support for mask requirements among urban dwellers was just over 76 percent; 56.1 percent among suburbanites; 38.8 percent among small-town residents; and 23.1 percent among rural respondents.
There is no statewide mask mandate for schoolchildren in Michigan.
Democratic first-term Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is up for reelection in 2022, has resisted pressure from the Michigan Department of Public Health to impose one. She has instead opted to leave the decision on school masks to county health departments and local school boards.
In a Sept. 8 statement, Whitmer reported that, to date, more than 60 percent of Michigan students are “covered by a mask requirement.”