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Hundreds protest mask mandate at Oakland County commission meeting

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — As more than 300 anti-mask protesters tried to get into a packed board room, Republicans on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners attempted to overturn a county-wide mask mandate for K-12 students but could not find sufficient support from fellow board members.

The majority of those protesting the mandate issued by the Oakland County Health Division were unable to get inside at the same time because seating in the commissioner’s auditorium was limited to about 42 members of the public. Several people, including educators and health professionals, took turns expressing their concerns regarding masks – or requests not to require masks – during the meeting.

People hold Unmask Our Children signs at the rally, Thursday night, September 2, 2021.

Autumn Fraser, who said she teaches kindergarten said: “Watch mandated masks and it is a debacle. They can’t concentrate properly. They pick at the masks. They’re unable to communicate with one another. … It’s a complete hypocrisy.

“You are all up for reelection in 2022 and we are putting you on notice.”

Demonstrators began gathering a couple of hours before the start of the meeting, setting up tables to gather petitions on other matters. But most were drawn there to voice opposition to having their children be required to wear masks to school. Some carried homemade signs proclaiming “Shut Down the Shutdowns for Good;" “Parents Want Choices;" My Child, My Choice, Unmask My Kids.” 

In general, those gathered said they were opposed to any health mandates, including masks, testing, and vaccines.

The mask mandate drew support from Kathryn Padin of Rochester Hills.

Hundreds of people protest in front of the Oakland County Board of Commissioner's auditorium on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, to protest the county's mask mandate.

“I work in a public school where a 12-year-old student died and going to his funeral was one of the hardest things I have ever done,” said Padin. “I don’t want to have to do that again. Please continue keeping our children safe by mandating masks.”

Before the doors to the board meeting were opened by Oakland County Sheriff’s deputies, Melissa Williams, who identified herself as a pastor, used a megaphone to say a prayer to voice her love for her county. “God says to take our county back,” she told the crowd.

Williams’ husband, Tony, would not identify their congregation other than to describe it as “non-denominational from West Bloomfield.” He encouraged others to help themselves to a stack of signs near him and to “hang out” with him outside because only a handful of people were being permitted inside at any one time.

“I’m here to protest, I want to stand up for Michigan,” said John Liposky of Waterford Township, who was wearing a red “Make America Great” hat with a “Trump 2020” button. “I am safe without a mask. We have too many regulations as it is.”

Cindy Penrod, left, stands with her daughter, Reagan, 8, both of Bloomfield Township, as they and others chant, 'No more masks' before the Oakland County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, to protest the county's mask mandate.

About an hour into the meeting, a resolution by Adam Kochenderfer, R-Pontiac, to rescind the mask mandate, was introduced but referred to a committee for further study. 

The resolution would rescind the mandate and leave mask mandates to the discretion of local school districts.

Oakland County health officials on Aug. 24 ordered that masks must be worn by children and staff in all schools and daycare centers. The order affects about 210,000 students across 28 public school districts and 22 charter schools academies. 

Washtenaw and Ingham county on Thursday joined several Michigan counties, including Wayne, Kalamazoo, Allegan, Kent and Ottawa, in mandating masks in schools.

Prior to the Thursday announcements by Washtenaw and Ingham counties, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said the mask requirements in effect covered 674,000 students or about 54% of students in traditional public schools. Washtenaw County's mandate impacts another 47,500 students and Ingham's 44,000 more.

Jessica Strathres, left, of Oxford, and others sign petitions, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 at a protest of Oakland County's mask mandate to limit the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service's emergency orders to 28 days, after which the department would have to go to the Legislature to justify another 28-day extension, according to the petition.

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