Tension runs high as school board, public discuss mask mandate

GRAND BLANC — With Grand Blanc Community Schools students returning to the classroom this week, the debate over the county’s new mask mandate continues to rage before the board of education.

Emotions ran high at the Monday, Aug. 23, school board meeting, prompting board President Susan Kish to call for order more than once and threaten to clear the auditorium.

Tension began to escalate as board Secretary Meredith Anderson read a prepared statement during board member reports.

Anderson questioned why any board member would sign the Code of Ethics, as they did in January, “if they had no intention of following it.”

“The purpose behind creation of this code was simply to ensure we treat everyone with kindness and respect, and that we make decisions as a board,” Anderson said.

“It does not seem like too much to ask for board members to treat those who make public comments in a professional manner. This should extend to the treatment of parents, staff and community members on social media.”

Anderson added that while individual board members are entitled to their own opinions, “we can state them without being condescending and insulting to others.”

Board Trustee Amy Facchinello agreed people should show respect but took exception to a part of Anderson’s statement that suggested the board function as a team.

“We are an elected board … we aren’t always going to agree and we’re not always going vote the same,” Facchinello said. “The assumption that we’re all going vote alike is wrong. I’ll be respectful, but I’m not going to just vote ‘yes’ go along with everything.

“This isn’t a dog and pony show. We’re not sitting up here having a dog and pony show trying to show the public how we all get along. That’s not why they elected us. They elected us to represent their voices.”

Board Treasurer Yasmeen Youngs said she, too, has concerns about “recent actions by one of my fellow board members.”

“Recently, a doctor spoke (at a board meeting), only to have been publicly disrespected by that colleague on social media,” Youngs said. “It is not OK to behave this way toward our public commenters. Everyone should be comfortable sharing their concerns with us without fear of retaliation. Many of you have come to our meetings and criticized us, but we don’t respond in hateful or antagonistic ways.

“We do all have our rights to speak our minds, but … as elected officials, I feel we are held to a higher standard in our actions and the way we interact with all members of our community.”

Youngs added that a parent who is new to the district recently asked a question, on social media, about masks.

“My same colleague ridiculed them,” she said. “This is absolutely not OK.”

Facchinello responded to Youngs’ comment, asking for proof of her allegations, adding, “stop making it personal.”

“You can’t have one board member slander another,” she said.

Kish remarked that each of the seven elected school officials maintains their 1st Amendment rights, but must be clear, when expressing their opinions in a public forum, that they are speaking for themselves only.

“We have the right to our own opinion. But understand, these rights do not allow individual board members to speak on behalf of a board of education or allow individual board members to be identified as representing Grand Blanc Community Schools or the Grand Blanc Board of education when they are sharing their personal beliefs,” she said. “This is misleading and causes confusion regarding board direction in individual opinions.

“Every single board member has an obligation to make sure they’re not being misrepresented in the public. Even if a board member is introduced by someone else as representing the district or the board, they need to clarify that they may be a board member, but they are not representing the school board.”

Kish added that the school board continues to support parental rights and choice with regard to masks but is bound by the county mandate for kindergarten through 6th grade students.

“To have any individual board member represent themselves as the only member with the courage to stand up for choice and parental rights is absolutely untrue,” she said.

Having seven individuals “working individually to push their individual agendas” will negatively impact the quality of education the district can provide, she said, urging everyone to share their concerns about the mask order directly with the county health authority board.

The board members’ remarks were followed by comments from the public.

Chelsea Fisher commented that the mandate is “reckless and dangerous” and the board is doing “a disservice to the community and, most importantly, our children.”

“I do not consent to the most recent order,” she said. “We have God-given rights and parents should be able to decide what is best for our children and to assume all risk. The health department and school district are infringing on our rights. Give people a choice. Our children deserve better.”

Danielle Woodward supported the mask mandate and asked that parents “look beyond their personal circumstances and realize we’re not all coming from the same state of health.”

She also asked that parents have compassion for others in the community, particularly they who have underlying health conditions.

“It’s not a personal choice when it takes away someone else’s choice,” she said.

Others called the mandate fascism and hinted at recalls and litigation.