LANSING, Mich. — The first day of school is around the corner and local schools districts are weighing whether to require students to mask-up in the classroom.
With a growing number of new COVID-19 cases, the state health department is strongly recommending districts issue mask mandates to help limit the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, but Michigan Republican lawmakers and party leaders are pushing back and encouraging parents to do the same.
The debate over school masking has been brewing for weeks, coming to a head with protests and lively school board meetings across the state.
Michigan GOP Co-chair Meshawn Maddock encouraged parents to “take a stand” against school districts who mandate masks.
“As parents, you know what is best for you and your child," Maddock said in a statement Monday. "Keep calling and emailing your school board, superintendent, principal and other administrators who need to be held accountable for these actions."
Last week, former Republican U.S. Education Secretary and West Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos said masking children in schools should be up to parents
"I think the right answer is that parents really need to be in a position to decide what is best for each of their children," DeVos said during an appearance on Fox News.
Meanwhile, four GOP state lawmakers from West Michigan sent a letter to Kent County Health Department Director Adam London, asking him to refrain from making any mask mandate in the county, though the health department previously said they were not planning on doing so at this time.
“We believe the best way to settle the masking debate is to allow Kent County’s 657,974 residents to evaluate their own risks, weigh the costs and benefits, and act accordingly," read the letter. "We hope you will agree and conclude that people can make informed choices for themselves and their families."
State Rep. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker), one of the cosigners, says any masking decision should continue being made at the very local level.
“I think we should stand up to make sure that people know that the local elected officials have responsibility here," Huizenga said. "Now, I'll support Adam [London] for his decisions, and I think he's done a good job with that, but when you look at things like school boards, we can't make any one individual a scapegoat and we can't make employers scapegoats, because that's what independent organizations should have the latitude to do."
“Let's be clear, one size fits all type policies, they just don't work very well,” he added.
Others want to take it a step further, on Tuesday GOP State Rep. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) introduced a bill that would prohibit public school districts from mandating masks all together.
“This plan is simple. Empower parents, not the government,” Damoose said.
Though more districts are beginning to follow health department recommendations, in the past week both Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Kentwood Public Schools announced they will require all students, staff and guests to wear face coverings indoors to start the year.