The debate over whether to require students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings for the approaching school year is intensifying across Michigan, turning board meetings into battlegrounds and leaving parents pitted against each other.
The state waded into the debate Aug. 13, issuing updated guidance that strongly recommends schools require universal masking inside buildings. But like previous state guidance that urged students and staff to wear masks in schools, officials did not issue an order requiring it.
The guidance is unlikely to change the decision-making process for district leaders, said Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, a school advocacy group. Schools are already adhering to or and in some cases exceeding the state recommendations.
“If MDHHS wants masks to be mandatory, they certainly can issue a new order to require that and our districts would of course reevaluate,” McCann said.
In the two weeks since the state issued the updated guidance, a handful of county health departments (in Kent, Genesee, Ottawa, Kalamazoo, Allegan, and Oakland counties) have issued orders requiring masks in schools.
Most of the county orders mandate the masks for K-6 or K-8 students. Oakland County’s health order, issued Tuesday, is the broadest, mandating masks for students and staff in all grades.
Chalkbeat Detroit scoured websites and news articles to provide a glimpse into what decisions district leaders have already made over this volatile issue. This mask policy tracker will continually be updated until the official start of the school year on Sept. 7.
A few things to know as you look at our tracker:
- Many districts haven’t yet made decisions about whether or not to require marks. And those that have decided could make changes based on updated local, state, and federal guidance. In the last week, for instance, many districts have changed their optional mask policies and are now requiring them.
- Most of the districts that are not requiring masks still strongly recommend masks be worn in schools. Some are particularly urging unvaccinated individuals to wear masks.
- Even in districts where masks aren’t required, students and staff must wear them on school buses and other forms of school transportation. That’s due to a federal order requiring masks on public transportation.
Michigan has more than 800 school districts and charter schools. If you have information about a district that isn’t included on our list, send the info to us at email@example.com.