Despite protests, Oakland County executive says mask rule for schools will stand
Wednesday morning, protestors flocked to the doors of the Oakland County Health Division after the county issued a mask mandate for K-12 schools. The decision, impacting more than 200,000 kids, came after Oakland County went from a moderate COVID transmission rate to a high transmission rate.
County Executive Dave Coulter joined Stateside to get to the bottom of the decision.
“??We have unfortunately gone into the high category,” he said. “And we've been looking at that as well as the data that our health officers look at here within the county, and made the decision that a mask requirement would be in the best interest of our kids here.”
The anti-mask protest didn’t come as a surprise to Coulter, who has been feeling the heat of the COVID controversy for some time.
“I know that this has been a very heated issue with a lot of passions, frankly, on both sides," he said. "I have been getting emails and calls into my office for several weeks now. And I certainly respect and appreciate their perspectives and their right to protest here at the county complex. And it has been a peaceful protest, so we appreciate that.”
Nonetheless, Coulter stands firm in the county’s decision. He intends to listen to science, not political pressure.
“On a health order like this, we're really trying to listen to those people who are most directly knowledgeable. And that would be our health officers, our school administrators, our superintendents and the like."
While he prioritizes the guidance of health professionals, Coulter also understands the anti-mask crowd’s concerns.
“I’m not saying that we’re immune to people’s opinions,” he said. “When we get back to a moderate transmission level here in the county, we'll rescind the order.”
In defense of the county’s mask mandate, Coulter shed some light on another perspective: school staff.
“I can tell you that they, as a group...are very relieved that the county has stepped into this space because they feel, to some degree, ill-equipped to make these health decisions. And what we thought was that if we could take this health decision burden off of their plate, they could get back to doing what they do very, very well, which is to educate our children in person—which is our goal.”
Opponents of this decision often view the mask mandate as an infringement upon their freedoms and ability to make their own decisions for their children. Coulter understands this, but considers Oakland’s COVID situation to be something greater than a personal decision.
“Certain things like public health can't be a choice if we're going to protect everybody. There are other measures that children must take to go to school, including vaccinations of other types. And so, I respect parents' abilities and desire to have this choice. But when it comes to public health, then we're all in this together and the choices that we make have to be in the best interests of all of our children.”
No matter the uproar it caused, Coulter believes this is the right decision.
“And so I'm comfortable—even knowing that it will arouse passions, you know, in the political sphere—that we're doing whatever we can in Oakland County to keep kids safe and in classrooms.”
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Lucas Polack.