Board, some parents at odds over masks in local district

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published October 13, 2021

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WARREN/STERLING HEIGHTS — About 40 frustrated Warren Consolidated Schools parents attended the Oct. 6 Board of Education meeting at Angus Elementary School in Sterling Heights.

Instead of meeting in the school cafeteria as originally scheduled, the school board and Superintendent Robert Livernois remained in a room separate from the crowd that attended the meeting.

The school board meeting was videotaped live as it happened on a large screen in the cafeteria for attendees to follow along. Anyone that wanted to speak at the hearing of the public had to enter the room where the school board was, while the rest of the audience members remained in the cafeteria.

“Cowards,” said parent Amy White, who has four children in the district. “They don’t want to be confronted by the parents. I feel like it takes away from our presence.”

“They didn’t like the comments from the crowd at the last meeting,” said Dawn Marceau, whose son attends Beer Middle School.

Several parents, some carrying “unmask our children” signs, came to last Wednesday’s meeting to address the board on their concerns regarding students wearing masks all day at school. Many said they are the caregivers of their children and feel it should be their decision whether or not their children wear masks to school, not district officials.

“Why are we not having the choice to mask our children?” asked parent Jennifer Wassmann, who has three children in the district. “In order to get an education, I was told they need to wear a mask. A flu shot or any vaccination, that is up to us.”

According to Wassmann, one day in class her son was told he would have to leave the classroom in order to blow his nose. Wassmann believes the district “will lose multiple families” because of the mask mandate.

“You have lost teachers. You have lost staff,” Wassmann said. “You have lost students.”

Barbara Cerda, whose children have graduated, wanted to know who voted for the mask mandate and who did not.

“With strong leadership comes ... responsibility. The decisions you make are very, very important and should be based on sound, solid information, not emotions,” Cerda said. “It should be based on concrete evidence. The information clearly shows masks do not work. I’m here to say the mask mandate is not a sound decision. It’s not based on science.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a report reviewing studies about masking concluded: “Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2.” And: “Further research is needed to expand the evidence base for the protective effect of cloth masks and in particular to identify the combinations of materials that maximize both their blocking and filtering effectiveness, as well as fit, comfort, durability, and consumer appeal. Mask use has been found to be safe and is not associated with clinically significant impacts on respiration or gas exchange. Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.”

Some studies on the subject have also been met with criticism.

Benjamin Orjada thanked the board for their actions.

“Thank you for actually taking action and doing what is needed. Thank you for your conviction. Thank you for your dedication and your leadership. You know the facts already,” he said, adding that children are least at risk for COVID-19. “However, they may spread it to their family. They may spread it to older members of the community. It puts them at risk.”

At the end of the meeting, none of the school board members nor Livernois responded to the parents’ comments.

In separate follow-up emails Oct. 7, Livernois and School Board President Susan Trombley did comment on the meeting. According to Livernois, at the district’s September meeting, some audience members disrupted the meeting by shouting, interrupting and talking over community members during audience participation, which affected the ability of the board to hear them.  

“As such we provided them an opportunity to see and hear the board conduct its business by audio and video and invited members of the audience to participate in person individually,” Livernois said.

“Our board members feel it is important to provide community members an opportunity to be heard through audience participation, Trombley said. “The Open Meetings Act governs this process and requires the board to provide the community an opportunity to see and hear the board conduct the business of the district and provides an opportunity for feedback to the board through audience participation. Our set-up last night satisfied all the requirements of the Open Meetings Act and provided community members an opportunity to address the board in-person without interruption.”

Many parents were not happy the board stayed in a different room than them.   

“It was not our intention to upset the guests present for our meeting,” Trombley said.  “This format was used to protect community members’ right to address the board and be heard. Board members had the ability to see community members during our meeting.”

Could the district lose students over mask mandates.

“Loss of students is always a concern from a financial standpoint. But that door swings in both directions,” Trombley said. “Thanks to school of choice we have the potential to receive as many or more students than what decide to learn in another district.”

At press time, the mask mandate continues in the district. According to school officials, students are given the opportunity to have a break from their mask during outdoor activities and at lunchtime.

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