Residents speak out on mask mandates as school year nears

GRAND BLANC — The Grand Blanc Community Schools Board of Education remains caught in the middle as opposing factions in the community state their cases for and against the recommended COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Again, last week, parents and other area residents appeared before the board, 17 of them signing up for their 3-minute opportunities to speak their minds.

On the topic of safety guidelines, particularly the potential for another mask mandate, the issue boils down to parental rights versus protecting the health of classmates and staff.

District officials have said, as the new school year draws nearer, they will follow the state and local health department guidelines which, at this time, call for recommending but not requiring the use of masks.

Dr. Bobby Mukkamala was among the residents who spoke on the topic of masks.

“It’s clear that a large swath of America is embroiled in another surge of infections,” he said. “Early on, we had a sense of relief when looking at the data about kids because they fared better. Now, 90 percent of cases are delta variant, as infectious as chicken pox, with 70,000 infected kids and 1,500 hospitalized today. We have every reason to believe we are headed down the same road as many southern states. But we can change that trajectory.”

Students who have masks will face peer pressure to remove them in school if they are not mandatory, he said. Students with mild symptoms will still come to school and spread the infection.

“There is plenty of data on the efficacy of masks,” Mukkamala said. “Some (people) will continue to tell you masks don’t work. They are wrong. We can create a culture that promotes mask use in school and does not shame. I believe we can do better than this minimum and require this simple level of protection. We can do our most, not our least, to avoid another disruptive year. Look at the data. Be leaders for our kids.”

Susan Hendricks, a veterinarian, agreed. She remarked on the board’s responsibility to the community at large.

“The delta variant is spreading quickly,” she said. “Once we return indoors it will spread more quickly. Most people agree children need to be in the classroom, but we must protect them against this variant. Schools are epicenters of community outbreaks. You have a duty to protect the rest of community, as well.”

April Delor was one of the residents who expressed a different perspective, saying parents are “frustrated by the choices being made for our families that we feel we have no control over.”

“We’re hoping you can see, from parental perspective, what it would be like to have someone force you to do something to your family that you didn’t agree with,” she said. “From masks to vaccines, how far will they take this if we do not stand up for this now? If you don’t stand up with us now with the mask mandates coming into our schools, next it will be vaccine mandates.

“If you don’t stand with us on these issues, they’ll take our schools and our freedom to have education in a public school away from us for those who don’t comply. It’s wrong. It’s illegal and we should not have to be here today for this reason.”

She urged board members to stay neutral and “not back down.”

“Tell the government, the health department and whoever else, you will not take the rights of parents to be parents,” Delor said. “You are here to provide a healthy education for these children, not to force medical compliances on them. This is not your responsibility. Safe and healthy for some people means not having to wear a mask and breathing fresh air.”

On a related note, Superintendent Dr. Trevor Alward announced that the district will provide social workers and counselors to give academic and social-emotional support to students whose education and development have suffered by the disruptions of normalcy that the pandemic has brought.

The district will use a portion of its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to pay for the intervention initiatives.