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Benzie Central School Board will now require masks to be worn at K-12 schools

Back of a school bus

Updated: 09/03/2021 at 4:10 p.m.:

The Benzie Central School Board will now require masks to be worn at K-12 schools, as mandated by the local health department.

Earlier this week, the board voted to defy the health department’s mask mandate.

But Friday, several trustees changed their vote after determining they’d likely lose a battle with the health department.

School board member Stephanie Johnston says her mind wasn’t changed by additional health department guidance, but she didn’t want to risk an expensive lawsuit.

“There was no way in my mind that I wanted to start school breaking a mandate. That's not who I am. I'm a rule follower. But in my mind it was an act of civil disobedience.”

Some parents who attended the meeting said they were shocked at the last minute change, the weekend before school is set to start.

They said they may unenroll their children, who they do not feel should be made to wear masks in school.

“By enforcing the mandate we have families that really like the idea of being able to have that choice. We have the risk of losing those students to neighboring districts who have that choice."

But she says they’d have no students to educate if the health department shut down their schools.

Original post:

Right now, when Benzie Central students go to school on Tuesday some of them might not be wearing masks, which is allowed under the district’s policy.

But it’s against the rule issued by the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.

Health Officer Lisa Peacock says if she gets reports of mask-less students, the department could penalize the district.

“If they refuse to comply with the order then it is stated in the order that they could be subject to injunctive action. And then that becomes a legal process.”

But some members of the Benzie School Board say they are willing to risk lawsuits and schools being closed, in order to allow parents to have a say  about whether their child wears a mask.

The majority of the northern Michigan school board say they didn’t have enough information to change its policy making masks optional.

The Board’s Vice President Nicki Brown says most parents who reached out were against a requirement.

“I believe parent choice is the best choice,” she says.

Brown says by going against the health department’s mandate, the district could lose its insurance and the schools could be shut down.

The school board plans to meet again Friday to discuss its policy.

IPR's Taylor Wizner is passionate about empowering communities through solid reporting.
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