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Masks are recommended, not required for students this fall

Plan is subject to change

August 23 update: Since publication of this article, several districts implemented indoor mask mandates including Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kentwood Public Schools, Wyoming Public Schools and Godwin Public Schools for staff and students, grades pre-K through 12, in response to the contagious Delta variant. Forest Hills Public Schools is requiring masks indoors for students under the age of 12 and all other unvaccinated people. On Aug. 20, Kent and Ottawa County Health Departments mandated masks for pre-K through 6th grade while inside any enclosed school building or facility and for any employee, regardless of vaccination status.

Kent ISD — Superintendents and the Kent County Health Department are recommending, but not requiring, masking for teachers, students, staff and visitors in grades K-12, regardless of vaccination status, according to a statement issued Thursday by the Kent Intermediate Superintendent Association.

“While districts strongly encourage following the recommendations, parents may choose what they feel is best for their child. Please know the CDC still mandates masks for all school bus drivers and passengers,” according to the KISA statement.

The Kent County Health Department recently met with superintendents to encourage the use of masks within schools at all grade levels. 

A big emphasis remains on vaccines. “According to health experts, the safe and effective vaccines available to all individuals 12 years of age and older provide the greatest protection from COVID-19. At this time, all health authorities recommend vaccination for those who are eligible and following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for face masks,” according to the statement.

A Changing Scenario

The recommendation comes after superintendents, teachers and staff members had high hopes for as much normalcy as possible for the 2021-2022 school year. However, Covid-19’s more transmissible Delta variant has created questions, hesitancy and the need for guidance. 

The CDC has warned that the Delta variant is as fast spreading as chickenpox and causes more severe cases. Vaccines remain highly effective against it.  But they are aware that increased transmission might require a return to prevention measures.

“They are hoping the Delta variant doesn’t force us back into some of the mitigation strategies we had to employ last year,” said Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Koehler.

“This will be an ever-flowing situation to monitor school-by-school, district-wide,” said Grand Rapids Public School spokesperson John Helmoldt, during a press conference about GRPS’ plan. 

Wyoming Junior High School eighth-grade English teacher Katie Sluiter said she plans to continue masking, though she had “really high hopes for not needing to be masked this fall.” She plans to have her children, ages 12, 9 and 6 mask as well.

“I wasn’t 100% sure I felt comfortable with kids under 12 not masking, but at least in the spring it felt like things were going in the right direction. Teaching in a mask is not fun at all. I hated it. I mean, it didn’t bother me enough to not do it. I believe in the science that says they help, but it’s hard to project your voice in a mask,”

She, her husband and 12-year-old son are all vaccinated.” We are following the CDC pretty closely and when they said that the Delta variant seems to be able to be passed from vaccinated individuals, my husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘I guess that answers whether or not we will mask this fall.’”

The KISA plan for masking is in line with current guidance from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, issued Aug 4, updated recommendations for schools. The MDHHS guidance follows  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, which are for universal indoor masking. Recommendations also include maintaining 3 feet of distancing between students in classrooms, improved ventilation, handwashing, contact tracing, and cleaning and disinfecting.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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