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Advocates across Michigan grow in their calls for mask mandates in schools

Launch Online Petition to County Health Officers

After MDHHS failed to require masks in schools, parents across the state have started pop-up advocacy groups to advocate for schools to follow CDC guidelines to protect children. “Parents all want our kids back in school. We want them to have as normal a year as possible. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between safety or school. A mask and some sensible precautions are our kids’ ticket to normal”, says Alison Bernstein, Ph.D. who is a neuroscientist and a co-Founder of SciMoms, “after all we sacrificed last year, to see it might not happen safely? To just give up? It’s devastating.”

That devastation has turned into action. Pop-up advocacy groups across the state have grown at breakneck speed to make sure kids can safely attend school this year.

“What started as a conversation between two moms on Aug 8th has now grown into a movement called Smart Science Alliance with over a thousand like-minded people behind it.” says Marie Griffioen, an organizer with Smart Science Alliance. “What we want is simple – to protect the health of our kids and our community against COVID-19 through community health guidelines that are enforced appropriately and based on data, logic, and expert recommendations.” Smart Science Alliance originated in Kent County and is advocating for an immediate county-wide mask mandate in schools along with the other CDC layers of recommended protection including social distancing, contact tracing, and cohorts in schools.

Similar groups have also organized in Wayne and Oakland counties. From encouraging activation at school board meetings to coordinated advocacy at the county-wide level, these groups are working locally to protect kids and make face-to-face learning as safe as possible.

“We started GPPSS Community for Safe F2F in early 2021 as a response to the pivot from hybrid to full F2F while local and National COVID-19 case numbers were high.” Jen Evans says. “It has evolved over the summer to focus on a mask-required return to school this fall with the rise in Delta cases.”

Similar county-wide groups have popped up in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb County. Oakland County Parents for Safe In Person School started July 27th, when there was growing concern about the lack of required masking for the fall. The group today has 1200 members and 300 pending members.

Already there are signs that health leaders are listening to advocates, and responding to the new dynamics with the Delta variant. The Genesee County Health Department just announced that masks will be required for K-6th grade.

“While the order from Genesee county falls short of the recommendations of the CDC, MDHHS, and the AAP, the order addresses the most urgent need—protection of children not yet eligible to be vaccinated. We hope Oakland County Health Division does at least this much. All Michigan children deserve to be safe in school.” Nicole Kessler from Oakland County Parents for Safe In Person School shared.

"Students across Michigan have struggled academically because of the vast Covid-19 spread. School communities deserve to know that our public health officials are doing everything they can to keep our kids safe. The stimulus funds allocated to school districts give us an opportunity to master unfinished learning, invest in mental health and public health services, provide extensive tutoring and other interventions but if Covid-19 once again ravages our communities, we will be faced with an even tougher hill to climb in terms of just managing the basic needs of our communities. In rural communities across Michigan, students do not have access to quality health care services, and this burden is often left to schools to sort out. We must do everything we can so that our students can be safe in our school buildings AND get the support and services they need," said Jill Murphy, Small-Town and Rural Program Director, Michigan United. MI United is a member of the Michigan Education Justice Coalition.

Additionally, a direct appeal to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has been sent with over 40 initial signatures from health professionals, scientists, faith leaders, educators, and parent advocates. The letter was shared with MDHHS director Elizabeth Hertel and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s Chief Medical Officer, on Friday.

Advocates requested a meeting with MDHHS to follow up with the letter and ask questions directly of MDHHS. The request was declined by the office.

Parent advocates remain undeterred. Organizing parents at school board meetings and with direct appeals to individual schools continues.

The advice from the pediatric medical community has been unequivocal in its support for universal mask mandates in schools. The Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics shared an open letter aligning directly with the national organization’s appeal for mask requirements in schools.

“Effective public health strategies are those that are made with the intent and power to be followed by all, not by the will of some, or even most.” says Dr. Rosemary Olivero, Pediatric infectious diseases physician and Division Chief of Medical Specialties, Helen DeVos Children's Hospital of Spectrum Health. “Leaving such an important decision as the universal use of masks in schools to individual districts and/or individuals themselves, especially when the end-user is a child who is subject to many whims, is certain to be ineffective. The lessons learned from last year are extremely potent and give us the clear path to the safest academic year possible, and the cornerstone of that is: universal use of masks in schooling environments.”

But the political landscape seems to become more unstable for these parents arguing for science-based decision making.

“We are told by leaders this should be an evidence-based and science-based decision, yet we are now seeing GOP state representatives threaten the funding of local health departments if county health officers decide to mandate masks,” Marta Johnson, a parent advocate, shared. “Republican politicians trying to threaten public health funding deserve to be recalled for being so careless with our kids' lives. Being abandoned and threatened by an entire political party during a pandemic has certainly compelled many parents to get involved in politics like never before!”

Despite some school districts changing course as health departments strengthen their recommendations to “recommend to require”, it leaves too many districts and counties vulnerable to another wave of Covid hospitalizations.

“The system of recommendations based on trust has failed us. It has resulted in more contagious and more dangerous variants such as Delta emerging.” Marie Griffioen from the Smart Science Alliance shared. “If we don’t act now the consequences are easily foreseen. They are dangerous, and they are avoidable. Besides vaccinations, a mask order is the easiest, most efficient way to protect the most members of our community. It is the least we can do to keep our kids healthy, safe, and in school."

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Oct 30, 2023

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