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West Michigan school districts navigating new mask guidance

Posted at 10:10 PM, Jul 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 09:29:49-04

WEST MICHIGAN  — West Michigan schools are debating their return-to-learn plans after the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued guidance on Monday and urged schools to require masks for anyone over the age of two regardless of vaccination status.

The organization said its part of a layered approach districts should take in order to keep students in the classroom this coming school year, which it called a priority.

AAP said since most students are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines and wearing a mask is proven to reduce transmission of the virus among those without the shot.

“We’re going to continue to work really closely with the health experts at the Ottawa County Department of Health,” said Jason Craner, communication director Holland Public Schools.

Holland Public Schools is one of several in West Michigan still deciding whether to require masks. Over the next week its leaders plan to meet with county health officials and develop policies based on health trends.

“We can make plans and we can be ready for scenarios, but really it’s going to be what happens with test results and illnesses and how are these variants going to adapt and change,” said Crander. “We just have to be ready to couple with what’s going to be the safest way. We’re committed to providing students with a powerful learning opportunities that are safe and secure and predictable environments.”

FOX 17 contacted some of the districts which previously decided face coverings will be optional come fall.

"Oakridge Public Schools will continue to follow federal, state, and local public health requirements and mandates,” said Kyle Gilbert, director of communications. “At this time, public health recommends but does not require masks at school for students or staff. Therefore, masks will not be required at Oakridge Public Schools. We will continue to partner with our families as we prepare for a safe start to the school year, and will remain flexible as circumstances may change.”

"As we look to the start of the 21-22 school year with great anticipation, it is our hope that this fall is entirely different than it was last year," said Brandi Lyn Mendham, Zeeland Public Schools' Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum. "While long term decisions are sometimes difficult due to the continuous changes all of us have endured the past 493 days since schools in Michigan were originally shut down, we know how important it is for our families & our community to know ZPS' plan for the start of the school year. What we know currently is that we plan to return in the fall in person. For a handful of families who have requested to attend virtually, we plan to provide that option with support as well. While we await further guidance later this month, we continue to work with the Ottawa County Health Department advocating for recommendations aligned to local data trends. We are optimistic with the case counts being the lowest that we have seen since the pandemic began & look forward to providing the details of our return to school plan in early August."

AAP’s guidance aligns with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendations, but contradicts what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laid out earlier this month. The CDC said full vaccinated students, teachers, and staff could ditch masks at school.

“I for one have completely prepared my family and my children for the potential for masks to be worn for the upcoming part of the school year,” said Dr. Rosemary Olivero, pediatric infectious disease physician at Spectrum Health.

Dr. Olivero advised parents to prepare to send their children to school with a mask and to make sure it’s a comfortable, fitted one. She suggested children practice wearing one if they’re not used to it.

“I think being very open and honest with their children about the reasons why, obviously talking to them at their age appropriate level about the spread of germs and keeping others healthy and what the mask actually does to prevent others from getting sick and to prevent you from getting sick,” said Dr. Olivero.