Flushing parents protest mask mandate for students

FLUSHING — Throughout the new school year, various groups of parents have been speaking out against the Genesee County Health Department’s indoor mask mandate for K-12 students.

On Sept. 14, dozens of Flushing parents and students voiced their opposition to the mandate by holding a peaceful rally outside Flushing High School and attending the Flushing School Board meeting at Flushing Middle School.

Parents who spoke during public comment questioned the effectiveness of mask-wearing and raised concerns about the potential health and psychological effects on children wearing masks for eight hours or more a day in class.

“This is not about politics, it’s about common sense,” said Flushing parent Matthew Lozon. “Do you know how many germs get collected on that mask that you wear all day long? Do you really know if kids are safe wearing them all day, fidgeting with them all day? Please unmask our kids and give us a choice.”

Other parents argued that the county’s mask mandate is being used as a template to initiate mandatory COVID-19 testing and a future COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students and staff.

“You continually say that your hands are tied with the board of health…but please do not give up so easily,” Elizabeth Rosencrantz told the school board. “These mandates were put into place by people on power trips. If you believe mandatory vaccines aren’t next on the agenda, you’re badly mistaken. When they mandate vaccines for public schools, will you go along with it, or will you stand up against it?”

Genesee County Commissioner Meredith Davis, who is a Flushing resident, also spoke on behalf of parents who oppose the mask mandate. In doing so, she said that parents need to voice their grievances directly with Genesee County officials.

“When it comes to the mandate, please remember that the school board is just doing their job,” Davis told audience members. “They are under tremendous pressure from the county board of health, and they have to follow (the mask mandate) because there’s fines and other factors in play. If you are trying to get to the root of the problem, I would encourage you to go to the county board and the board of health.”

Flushing Community Schools Superintendent Matt Shanafelt said that the health department instituted the mask mandate in schools due to a rise in cases of the Delta variant in Genesee County, an increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases since mid-August and because no vaccine has been approved by the FDA for children under the age of 12. He further explained that masks are the best defense for students and staff against COVID-19 infections, per the county health department’s guidelines.

“When you go into the buildings, kids are happy to be back in school five days a week,” he said. “You can see it in their eyes, and how they interact with me or with their teachers. The masks are the one bit of abnormality for them… but kids are not having issues with them at school.”

Shanafelt said that increased COVID-19 testing has helped to keep more students in class and out of quarantine, while helping the district to identify COVID positive students more expediently. He also said that testing will continue to be optional and will not be done without parental permission, and that the district will not issue a vaccine mandate or offer vaccines to age-eligible students without parental consent.

Flushing School Board Vice President Steve Sheldon said that the district was more than willing to give parents a choice on mask-wearing before the health department issued the countywide mandate.

“We voted unanimously to have an optional mask-wearing policy before the changes, and I wholeheartedly supported that,” he said. “I’m not the biggest fan of the masks and I don’t like all the mandates, but I am a fan of keeping our district open and keeping kids safe.”

Since the start of the school year, there have been around 30 COVID positive cases at the high school, resulting in over 130 quarantines. However, Shanafelt said that there is no evidence that any of the positive cases originated in the building itself.