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Bridge Michigan
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Six northern Michigan counties join Wayne with newest school mask mandates

teacher in classroom. All wearing masks
All Wayne County students will be required to wear face masks when classes begin for the school year, as will half the students in the state. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

Sept. 14: Republicans advance bills to bar Michigan school mask mandates
Sept. 8: Michigan: Masked or vaxxed students more likely to avoid COVID quarantine
Sept. 2: Majority of Michigan students must now mask up, as Ingham, Washtenaw add rules
Aug. 30: Which Michigan school COVID measures work? We asked scientists

With the school mask mandate issued Friday afternoon by the Wayne County Public Health Department, and similar mandates in six northern Michigan counties announced Friday night, more than half of all Michigan public school students are now required to wear face coverings inside school buildings to protect against COVID-19.

Check your school’s mask policy here.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan, which covers Emmet, Charlevoix, Otsego and Antrim counties, and the Benzie-Leelanau Health District both announced mandates Friday night. The orders, which are identical in wording, require face masks for all staff and students in kindergarten through 12th grade, regardless of vaccination status.

Related:

There are now at least 13 Michigan counties where local health departments have issued countywide school mask mandates, with most being announced in the past week. Some school districts in other counties have issued their own mask mandates. For example, Ingham County doesn’t have a countywide mandate, but at least half the school districts in the county have issued their own.

Despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services declining to issue a statewide mandate, many county health departments and individual school districts have rushed this week to announce mask requirements to help protect against the surging delta variant of COVID-19.

The mandate by Wayne County, the state’s most populous, comes on the heels of a similar mandate issued by the second-most populous county, neighboring Oakland County, earlier this week. Eight of the state’s 10 largest school districts now have mask requirements, either self-imposed or mandated by their local health departments. 

The two largest districts that remain mask-optional are Utica Community Schools and Chippewa Valley Schools, both in Macomb County.

After Wayne County’s requirement was announced Friday, about 674,000 students (54 percent of all students in the state) were required to wear face coverings in school. It wasn’t immediately clear what the statewide tally is now with the addition of the six northern Michigan counties.

In Wayne County, the mask mandate applies to all staff and students in pre-K through 12th grade while they are inside school buildings. The mandate also applies to parents and others visiting school buildings, whether those schools are traditional public, charter, private or parochial.

Prior to the order, Wayne County’s public schools had a patchwork of mask policies. Eleven districts had issued mandates, and nine had announced plans to make masks optional. Bridge Michigan was unable to determine the policies at an additional 13 districts.

School mask requirements have led to protests and heated debates in school board meetings in recent weeks, with anti-mandate parents arguing that families should be allowed to make their own decisions about their children and that the benefits of masks are outweighed by academic and social-emotional harm. Pro-mandate parents counter that their children aren’t safe from COVID-19 unless all students are masked up.

School officials have pleaded for a statewide policy to avoid differences between districts and counties. There was a statewide mask mandate in the 2020-21 school year.

Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, a school advocacy group, applauded Wayne County’s decision on Twitter. “Educators continue to ask for clear directives from health officials on how to keep students safe and today Wayne County has provided that,” McCann wrote.

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