Republican pops resolution against school mask mandates, board passes pro-mask measure instead

By: - August 10, 2021 6:36 pm

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The Michigan Board of Education voted Tuesday to adopt a resolution supporting local school districts’ decisions on whether to put in place mask mandates in K-12 schools this upcoming school year during a more than eight-hour meeting.

The resolution, introduced by Republican Tom McMillin, a former state House member, initially encouraged schools not to impose mask mandates. 

However, Democrat Pamela Pugh amended the resolution to do the opposite of what McMillin proposed. Her amendment was supported by the majority-Democratic board and the measure passed on a 5-2 vote.

The board does not have the authority to impose mandates or directives, so resolutions are considered recommendations.

We can no longer let threats hold us hostage. Because it's like every time we try to appease a threat, then we get farther out and this disease will worsen.

– Board of Education Member Pamela Pugh

As schools prepare for the 2021-22 school year, which is just weeks away, some districts are already starting to roll out mask mandates. 

Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD) Superintendent Nikolai Vitti on Monday imposed a mask mandate for students and staff at the state’s largest school district.

Both the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status, as COVID-19 cases and the Delta variant rise across the country and in Michigan. 

As of Monday, Michigan has 913,220 COVID-19 cases and 19,958 residents have died from the virus.

Vaccines have not yet been approved for children under 12 years of age.

The long meeting was contentious between board members.

Tom McMillin

“This is child abuse, what’s being done to their children,” McMillin said regarding mask mandates in schools. “And this is serious. Like I told that doctor that our governor relies on [Dr. Joneigh Khaldun], people will be held accountable as child abuse is going on.”

Pugh was critical of the Republican members, who were unmasked at the meeting, blaming them for spreading conspiracy theories around COVID-19 and claimed that their push against COVID-19 safety protocols is “killing our children.” 

Kids make up 15% of COVID cases in the U.S.

“We can no longer let threats hold us hostage,” Pugh said. “Because it’s like every time we try to appease a threat, then we get farther out and this disease will worsen. This is something that we can get a hold of if we also see this as the enemy, versus a political opportunity.”

Republican member Nikki Snyder said Pugh’s comment was “absolutely bizarre and inappropriate.”

Last month, state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) introduced Senate Bill 600, which would prohibit K-12 districts from requiring students to be vaccinated or require unvaccinated students to wear a mask. The bill was referred to the Committee on Education and Career Readiness, but the Senate has not been in session since then. 

The meeting included a three-hour long public comment period, which was filled by a majority of parents who opposed masks and vaccine requirements in schools. Groups that oppose COVID-19 health restrictions have been targeting school and local government boards across the country.

State Superintendent Michael Rice said the public comments at Tuesday’s meeting did not fully reflect the views of Michigan’s parents and said he has received a number of emails from parents asking that mask mandates be imposed at schools this fall. 

The board rejected two other resolutions Monday that aimed to disapprove of discrimination based on vaccination status and encourage districts not to impose vaccination mandates for teachers, staff and students.

Both of those resolutions failed along party lines. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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