Northeastern Michigan School Districts Balance Health and Safety Concerns In Weigh Mask Mandates News, Sports, Jobs



News photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena High School principal Romeo Bourdage, left, bids farewell to students at the end of the school day on Tuesday. Bourdage said, for the most part, that most of the students compiled with the mandate mask that the school district helps prevent a transition to distance learning.

NAFTA – The recent spread of COVID-19 has led three school districts in northeast Michigan to implement mask warrants and others say they are ready to do the same, if the numbers continue to rise.

Alpena Public Schools, Rogers City area schools and Alcona community schools began implementing their mandates on Tuesday.

The spread of COVID-19 has created staff problems at some schools, which are now struggling to keep the doors open. In addition, hundreds of children in the region are in quarantine due to close contact with other infected people.

On Sunday, APS reported 29 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 232 students are in quarantine due to close contact with an infected person. Thunder Bay Junior High went remote last week due to a lack of available staff and the students returned to school on Monday.

On several occasions, there weren’t enough bus drivers to cover all the trips, forcing students to find other ways to get to school.

AHS director Romeo Bourdage stood outside his office on Tuesday, wishing his students good night, while ordering them to put on their masks.

Overall, Bourdage said, he was happy with the level of compliance and the mood of the kids.

“They have been great,” he said.

Students who do not mask themselves are subject to disciplinary action, including suspension, but each case will be dealt with on an individual basis, APS Superintendent Dave Rabbideau said on Monday at a meeting of the board of directors of education.

Superintendents from other districts in the region say keeping children healthy and in class are their main goals. To achieve this, it may require the use of masks until the number of infections decreases.

Alcona community schools have seen a rapid increase in recent infections. Superintendent Dan O’Connor said that in 24 hours earlier this week, 13 confirmed infections were recorded, forcing more than 100 students to self-quarantine. He said the school district was at a breaking point with its enrollment and if swift action was not taken and masks were not mandatory, face-to-face learning was at risk.

“To keep the kids in school and prevent them from self-quarantining, we had to make this decision,” O’Connor said. “We try to do everything we can not to switch to distance learning. It’s not what the community wants or what’s best for the kids, so we’re doing everything we can to keep the doors open and right now it’s the best way to do it.

Some of the area’s smaller school districts have had few infections and have yet to implement mask warrants.

Hillman Community Schools and Atlanta Community Schools Superintendent Carl Seiter said that since mid-August there had been less than 10 confirmed infections between the two districts. Seiter said he was in regular contact with the District 4 health department and was monitoring local pandemic numbers and trends. If infections start to increase, then action is possible, Seiter said.

“We have been very lucky, so for now I am not going to issue any warrant other than the ones in place for the buses,” Seiter said.

He said requiring people to wear masks on school buses is a policy set by the federal government, not local school districts.

In Posen, there is no mask warrant. Superintendent Michelle Weser has said so far this school year that there have been no confirmed infections at the school and that there are currently no students in quarantine. She said her fingers were crossed it remains the case, but school administrators and health officials are closely monitoring the situation and are ready to act if the dynamics of the situation change.

“We don’t need the masks, but if we start to see cases, spread in the community, or epidemics in school, we will use them as the determinants of what action we take,” Wesner said. “Right now we look fine. “

Rogers City Area Schools has had 20 new confirmed or probable COVID-19 infections at its elementary school since September 12 and implemented its mask mandate on Tuesday, data from the school district showed. This information did not indicate how many students or staff are in quarantine.

In an email sent to The News by administrative assistant Vicki Paull on behalf of Superintendent Nick Hein, Hein said the school district recognizes quarantine is not the best way forward, and he applauds the students and parents for their support.

“We have a family-oriented community that has reached out with support for this difficult decision. The community and students recognize that the mask requirement allows students other options instead of immediate quarantine from the health department, ”said Hein. “The quarantine has proven to have a negative effect on too many students and families over the past two years. The district continues to work closely with each parent or student who may be grappling with this new requirement, each situation being addressed on a case-by-case basis. ”

Onaway Area Community School District Superintendent Rod Fullerton said there had been less than a handful of infections among staff or students so far this school year. While he believes a mask warrant could be beneficial, until the District 4 health department makes a recommendation for a warrant, or issues an order for people in schools to wear masks , students have the option of wearing one or not.

He said he understood that implementing a warrant right now would trigger a backlash from parents, but added that if the Department of Health said a warrant was needed, one would be implemented.

“I think we’re doing better than a lot of districts, I’m knocking wood,” Fullerton said. “I think the guidelines may show that a mask mandate is needed, but the political climate is so hot right now that it would only add fuel to the fire at board meetings. We are doing our best. “

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