Parents pushing Hudsonville to make masks optional for students turned away from board meeting

The Detroit News

Amid pushback this week from some parents who want to make face masks optional for students, the head of a west Michigan school district said Friday there would be no change to the policy.

"We heard from both sides and people who are concerned," Hudsonville Public Schools Superintendent Doug VanderJagt told The Detroit News. "At this point we are not making any changes. ... The safety of our students and staff are of the utmost importance."

VanderJagt

The comments came after a group of more than 50 people, most not wearing masks, tried to get into Hudsonville Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Thursday at Hudsonville High School, according to MLive, the news website. Members of the group planned to request the board eliminate the district's mask rules, MLive reported.

The board was not slated to vote on a mask mandate Thursday night, the superintendent told The News.

The superintendent told MLive the meeting's attendance was capped at 80 due to social distancing requirements.

VanderJagt said those who couldn't enter the auditorium still had the option of viewing the meeting and addressing the board online. 

"We want to hear from our community. It just took some time and patience," he said. "We had to follow the mask mandate in order to have people in the room."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration on Friday extended a requirement that children as young as 2 years old should wear masks during gatherings.

The policy change comes amid surging COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates in Michigan. 

The state added 8,955 new COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths on Friday.

The percentage of COVID-19 tests bringing positive results has been rising for seven consecutive weeks and is at 18%, the highest since the spring 2020 surge, said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. On Friday, she called the numbers "concerning."

Michigan has led the nation in new coronavirus cases per population for two weeks, and infection numbers have been climbing for nearly two months. After the number of adults hospitalized with COVID-19 reached a record high of 4,011Tuesday, the tally dropped slightly the next two days, to 3,960 Thursday.

VanderJagt said this district planned to continue in-person learning for its approximately 7,000 students, barring changes from state and Ottawa County health officials.

"We want to keep our kids in school and our staff safe," he said. "We want to do what we are required to do to stay in person."

At least eight hospitals across Michigan were listed Thursday at full capacity forCOVID-19 patients. Beaumont Health CEO John Fox called the development "troubling and alarming," and highlighted the fact that young people are part of the latest surge of cases. 

Amid the surging numbers, some public health experts, including Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have called on Whitmer's administration to issue new restrictions on gatherings.