Mask protest results in one arrest, shelter in place at SCHS

SWARTZ CREEK — One person landed behind bars after a group protesting the mask mandate entered Swartz Creek High School on Friday, Sept. 10.

Superintendent Ben Mainka said the group entered through the Performing Arts Center, using a door that normally is locked. Most left the building after police and administrators spoke with them, but “several pushed through,” Mainka said.

“Unfortunately, it’s the first time in our protests that we’ve had someone who’s been disrespectful and disorderly,” he said.

Police and administrators walked with the protesters and students were not allowed in the hallways while the protesters were in the school.

“No one was in danger, but it’s fair to say some of our kids were concerned,” Mainka said. “I don’t want to downplay what some of our kids may have been feeling in that moment.”

Protests on school property are nothing new.

“It’s a 1st Amendment right of a person in this country,” Mainka said. “We do not infringe on that right but … the school has to remain consistent and neutral.”

School board Trustee Chuck Melki said district officials should not tolerate such behavior from protesters.

“If you want to protest peacefully, great,” Melki said. “But coming into the building, it’s disruptive. The kids don’t deserve to be disrupted and scared. I respect everybody’s right to protest, but you cannot disrupt the interior of that school when our kids are in there. It’s dangerous.”

Mainka explained that the school board’s position on masks has always been that parents should have the choice. However, the district is obligated to follow the Genesee County Health Department mask order.

“That decision was taken out of our hands,” he said. “The health department has the authority to issue the order, and the school district does not have the ability to simply ignore it.”

Board President Carrie Germain said district officials have consulted with “a variety of attorneys,” all of whom have advised that the district is required by law to follow the health department’s direction.

“And we are doing so consistently, as we have over the last 18 months,” Germain said.