School leaders outline mask policies as the new school year begins.

August 19, 2021

– Contributed photo from Hart’s Spitler Elementary School taken last winter.

School leaders outline mask policies as the new school year begins.

Pentwater is the only district in Oceana requiring masks.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

OCEANA COUNTY — The state’s top doctor said Wednesday, Aug. 18, that a mask mandate for K-12 schools would help keep children safe when they return to classrooms for the start of 2021-2022 school year, but state leaders have not yet taken action to require masks in schools. 

“I have recommended that if a mask mandate were in place and it were followed, it would likely decrease the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the state health department during a news conference.

In Oceana County, only one of its five public school districts — Pentwater — is requiring masks. Pentwater Public Schools Superintendent Scott Karaptian made the announcement on the district’s Facebook page Wednesday, Aug. 18.

PENTWATER

“I know we were all hoping to start this school year as normal as we possibly could, unfortunately due to COVID-19 and the Delta variant, beginning Monday Aug. 23, 2021, Pentwater Public Schools will be following the recommendation of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control)/MDHHS’s (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) recommendation and guidelines as listed below:

MDHHS recommends that all schools adopt policies to:

  –  Promote vaccinations for all eligible students, staff, and families;

 –   Require universal masking for students, staff and visitors regardless of community transmission rate or vaccination status (which will include all indoor athletic activities for athletes and spectators);

 –  Implement layers of prevention measures (air purification, cleaning and disinfecting, distancing, etc.)

“We know and understand that this is not the way anyone wanted to start this school year, myself included,” states Karaptian. “However, Pentwater Public Schools will continue to do what we can to provide the safest learning environment for our students and staff to the best of our ability. We will continue to follow and keep in communications with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and adjust protocols as able per their guidance and recommendations.”

“It is not a decision that I or my board have taken lightly,” Karaptian said in an interview. In addition to the support of the school board, the decision has been favorably met by the teacher’s union and many families, he said. The board will review the masking policy on a monthly basis, he added.

Two other area school districts will also have a mask requirement — Baldwin and Manistee, said the superintendent. “On the plus side, we’re back to five-day-a-week, face-to-face instruction.” Wearing masks reduces the likelihood of quarantines, he added.

Superintendents from the four other public school districts in Oceana County recently announced that masks will be optional.

HART

“This year, there are other questions and you could guess some of those as well…especially the mask question,” wrote Hart Public Schools Superintendent Mark Platt Tuesday, Aug. 17.  

“Bus routes are due out very soon, but I need you to be aware that a mask is required for a bus and is a federal mandate that we do not have the power to violate.

“Masks are still a parent choice, and I won’t go very far into all the reasons behind why I have made and the BOE has supported the recommendation. However, we absolutely need your cooperation in order to keep the mask issue a parent choice issue. We need you to keep your child home if they are not feeling well and we will send them home if they aren’t feeling well (and not on the bus). The last thing anyone wants is to have case counts rise from kids coming to school not feeling well. Last year, we had very little flu, and staff attendance was phenomenal as well. This was because parents, students, and staff seriously followed mitigating strategies and that is still needed. Masks are a strategy, but so is good judgment. 

“As you have figured out by now, I side with parents making choices about masks, but we can’t do it alone. We do and will need you to work with us to keep masks a choice. I don’t possess the power to override the health department, so let us work together not to put the health department in the spot where we get told to mask up,” stated Platt.

“Not all districts are doing the same thing with masks. It is very likely we will have athletic opponents who have different mask policies than Hart. If we are a visiting team at a place that has a more restrictive policy, we will have to follow their rules.”

“If we can get through last year, we can get through this year,” he said.

SHELBY

“As you know, our district has continued to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic with a commitment to health, safety, and social and emotional support, all while providing effective instruction to our students this past year,” states Shelby Public Schools Superintendent Tim Reeves in a July 20 announcement. “Over the course of this past school year, we have worked closely with the public health and medical experts who have advised us.

“As we look toward the start of the 2021-2022 school year, masks, testing, and vaccinations will be a choice for any student, staff member, or visitor, unless federal, state, and/or local requirements obligate us to mandate. 

“Shelby Public Schools is greatly encouraged with our movement toward normalcy. We are committed to providing your child the best education they can receive.

“Along with our everyday in-person instruction, we will also offer a virtual learning option through West Shore ESD (Educational Service District) this coming school year. This opportunity for choice will allow all student needs to be met throughout the district. 

“After reviewing updated guidelines from MDHHS, and following the Governor’s recently removed COVID-19 restrictions, along with continuous collaboration with local health departments, we intend to continue emphasizing hand washing, along with increased cleaning and sanitizing. Daily home health screening will remain vitally important. We will continue to ask students who are symptomatic or sick to take extra precautions and stay home until symptoms have improved.

“We expect these mitigation measures will help with not only the spread of COVID-19, but also with other seasonal and common viruses.

“We will continue to follow the law and any school mandates. The health and safety of our staff, students, and families is still our top priority. If COVID-19 cases in our community and schools were to surge again for any reason, we have the knowledge and experience to take the necessary steps to keep staff and students safe and in school, as evidenced by this past school year.”

WALKERVILLE

“To answer the ‘big question’ of masks and the start of the new school year: under current guidelines we are not required to have students wear masks when the school year starts up in September, therefore we will not impose the mandate that they do so,” writes Walkerville Public Schools Superintendent Tom Langdon in a July 22 announcement. “There are countless intelligent people on both sides of this issue and no shortage of emotions regarding this debate.

“There is even more grey area as far as why we should or shouldn’t require students to wear masks, that all it really does is cause disharmony between us,” stated Langdon. “Further, I know that this message will make some people happy and others just the opposite. Although I cannot do anything to stop that dissension, as WPS Superintendent I can remove some of the uncertainty that we all face right now by informing you that now and into the future if we are granted the privilege of allowing you the choice to have your child wear or not wear a mask, then we will continue to grant you that choice.

“As your superintendent, I am saddened that your child has had to experience this time in our history. At times (at least to me) this seems like an unbelievable nightmare when it comes to the well-being of our students. In all honesty, I want them to get back to the most normal situation possible, and when given that opportunity I will take it.”

HESPERIA

“I know there are many questions related to Covid procedures and just how close to ‘normal’ we will be,” writes Hesperia Community Schools Superintendent Bryan Mey, Aug. 10.

“As you know, our number one priority is student safety. We will work diligently to make HCS a safe, secure, healthy, and clean environment for our students and families. This situation is constantly evolving, and we will constantly monitor and update as needed. Below you will find the most up to date information on recommendations and requirements regarding COVID-19 procedures.

“Vaccinations are recommended, but not required,” states Mey. “Masks are optional during the school day in the buildings, and each family will make their own decision regarding mask use. Masks are currently required on public transportation including school buses. Hesperia Community Schools will expect students and adults to respect each other and their individual choices regarding masks and vaccinations. There will be no mandatory quarantine of students. Families will be given the option to quarantine in the event of a close contact with an infected student or staff member. Schools are required to contact trace any type of communicable disease and report it to their local health department within 24 hours.

“We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your patience and support over the last 18 months. In these trying times, it is always encouraging to know that our community supports our work and our efforts.”

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