Michigan Gov. Whitmer, Lawmakers, School Groups Clash over Mask Policy

Two young, brunette girls wearing black masks
by Scott McClallen


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, lawmakers, and some school administrators are clashing over back-to-school COVID-19 policies.

Ken Gutman, who serves on the K-12 Alliance of Michigan’s Board of Directors and is superintendent of Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, called on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to develop a COVID-19 delta variant plan for schools and for the department or local health departments to enact a mitigation strategy that includes a possible mask mandate inside school buildings.

“My fellow Superintendents and I are doing everything we can to help our students succeed inside the classroom this year, which is the job we were hired to do,” Gutman said in a statement. “We need health officials to do the same now and provide us with a clear response plan should the COVID-19 Delta variant impact our school buildings and, even more importantly, provide clear decision making, not vague recommendations, on how we can best prevent that from happening.”

Gutman opposed letting local educators decide, saying it puts “all of our schools in a dangerous position regardless of what decision any individual district makes.”

However, Whitmer disagreed, saying at a Monday press conference that “there are no plans to do any broad mandates.”

Whitmer cited widespread vaccine availability for those older than 12 years old as mitigation tactics that differentiate this school year from last year.

“We now have tools so that we can take action to protect ourselves and those around us,” Whitmer said. “And we know that districts in large measure wanted the ability to make those decisions at the local level.”

Meanwhile, four GOP lawmakers sent a letter dated Aug. 24 to Kent County Health Officer Adam London disapproving of a mask mandate for kindergarten through sixth-graders throughout the county.

“While you have cited your purported legal authority to make the type of determination you are proceeding with, from the perspective of principle and basic good governance, it is crystal clear that an unelected official should not be making these sorts of decisions affecting the daily lives of the people of Kent County,” the letter says.

Reps. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, Mark Huizenga, R-Walker, Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, and Bryan Posthumus, R-Cannon Twp., signed the letter, saying parents “flooded” their offices with displeased calls and emails.

The lawmakers asked London to reconsider the decision and leave it up to a combination of local school boards, parents, and local health officials.

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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.





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