By Dean Vaglia
Leader Staff Writer
The Oakland County Health Division (OCHD) issued Emergency Health Order 2021-1 requiring the use of facial coverings inside K-12 schools, daycares and vocational schools on Tuesday, Aug. 24 – a day before Oxford kids were expected to start the 2021-22 school year.
The mandate is based on reports and recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), CDC and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) indicating the use of masks in schools lowers the risk of children catching COVID-19. It also comes as cases and deaths rise across Michigan and as the more contagious and possibly more severe Delta variant spreads around the country.
Reactions to the mandate have been mixed but expected. The usual characters are reacting as anyone in the know would expect, with reportedly dozens of people protesting the OCHD’s order on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 25.
Reactions to the mandate are mixed in Oxford as well.
(To read how Oxford Schools handled this mandate, click HERE)
Michael Spisz, Oxford Township resident and chair of the Republican Caucus for the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, released a statement on behalf of the caucus criticizing the order. Spisz claimed the order was “unlawful,” arguing ages 0-19 having the second-highest number of cases in Oakland County by demographic does not justify the OCHD’s order and stated masks should be optional in schools.
“If you look at (state and county) charts and graphs perhaps you’ll see that the age group (0-19) at most of the schools, the K-12s, is the lowest number of cases and the lowest number of deaths,” Spisz said when asked about the statement. “So basically (the graphs are) stating that the risk to school age children is low.”
Spisz said the caucus is looking into issuing a resolution at the next Board of Commissioners meeting and that schools and districts in disagreement with the county’s position should voice their concerns.
“From a school board standpoint, it is a mandate by the (OCHD),” Spisz said. “I think they need to follow what has been mandated to them. I don’t believe it is in the best interests of the school boards and/or the school districts to go against the mandate, but if they do not believe in the mandate, they need to make their voices heard to the county and make them understand why they do not believe so.”
While he does not believe COVID-19 is a health emergency at the current moment, Spisz encourages people to get vaccinated against the virus.
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State Rep. John Reilly today announced his opposition to the Oakland County Health Division’s mask mandate for local schools.
“This mandate — imposed unilaterally by the unelected county health division — takes away options from parents and students,” said Reilly, of Oakland Township. “Furthermore, Oakland County is large and populous, and a universal mask mandate for schools does not allow for varying local circumstances across the county. Such a blanket, unilateral mandate places a one-size-fits-all solution on a complex, controversial issue.”
Oxford Community Schools (OCS) released a statement by Superintendent Tim Thorne and School Board President Tom Donnelly on Aug. 25 stating the district would delay enforcement of the county-level mandate until Monday, Aug. 30. Some of the reasons cited for the delay include preparing for enforcing the mask policy and handling requests for new students at Oxford Virtual Academy.
OCS’ compliance is in line with comments by Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Jill Lemond, who said at the Aug. 18 school board meeting the district would adjust its mask policy to be in line with any new health orders. The district’s planned approach encouraged but did not enforce the use of masks indoors, though mask use would be enforced on buses due to a federal health order mandating face coverings on public transportation.
People on Facebook
A poll posted to the Oxford Community Forum Facebook group by administrator Melissa Hanks Ketchel asked members about mask usage in K-12 settings on Aug. 25. After being live for 24 hours, 326 of the respondents said mask usage should be left to personal preference, while 169 respondents said masks should be worn in schools. Only 8 respondents outright objected to mask usage.