MANCHESTER, Mich. — "They can't enforce it," said one parent about the mask mandate. He was speaking to a group of about two to three dozen students outside Manchester High School Tuesday who were trying to get into the school building without wearing a mask.
The parent could be heard on a video that was posted to TikTok during what some have described as a protest of the mask mandate from the Washtenaw County Health Department which requires "that everyone in educational institutions and settings consistently and properly wear a face mask while inside any enclosed building or structure."
The order applies to public, private, vocational, and charter schools that provide pre-K through 12th-grade education in the county. The mask order also includes any of the district's extracurricular activities and athletics."
A deputy from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office can be seen on the video, not far from the front door where the principal and the superintendent are trying to keep the students who aren't wearing masks out of the building.
The deputy said the children have to be wearing a mask to go into the school but does not attempt to guide them away from the door where the superintendent and principal were trying to encourage the students to put their masks on before entering the building.
"I'm not going to force anybody," the deputy told the parent who was taking the video. "I'm not putting masks on anybody, that's not my job," he said. "This is a county health department order and a policy of the school that anybody that's going to go in, they gotta have a mask on."
It seems the parent took that to mean no one was going to stop the students from entering the building.
"Okay, they can go in, guys. They can go in. Go on in, guys," the man told the students.
Superintendent Dr. Brad Bezeau said the students persisted in trying to push their way inside the building, and because he did not want the situation to escalate at the door, he and the principal did not push back.
Some of the students went to their classrooms and others went to the main office.
Bezeau said the staff contacted parents to let them know that they have no choice but to follow the order by the health department or the district and students would risk getting fined.
Dr. Bezeau said it was his understanding that all of the students returned to school Wednesday with their masks on. But that was after a firmly stated letter to parents and students which detailed the district's COVID-19 cases and the importance of complying with the order.
Click on the video to hear from parents who want their children to wear masks and those who don't.
The following is the letter issued by Dr. Bezeau:
Good Evening, Manchester Community Schools,
I hope all is well with you and your family as we continue to navigate through the current phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. With five positive COVID-19 student cases, three positive COVID-19 staff cases, and seventeen students being identified as quarantined individuals since the beginning of the school year, we will continue meeting all requirements and lawful orders issued by the Washtenaw County Health Department on Thursday, September 2, 2021 and that went into effect today, Tuesday, September 7, 2021. It will take all of us to ensure that we keep one another safe and healthy during this time.
We as a school district will comply with all orders and mandates from the Washtenaw County Health Department. These orders, authorized under the Michigan Public Health Code, will be followed by the school district in all cases. Know that these are lawful orders, and the Washtenaw County Health Department Order issued September 2, 2021 is a lawful order issued pursuant to the Michigan Public Health Code, MCL 333.2451 and MCL 333.2453, as well as the State Administrative Rules promulgated by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, R 325.175(4) as authorized by the Public Health Code, MCL 333.2226. These laws and any resultant order are presumed lawful until a court of competent jurisdiction rules otherwise. To date, that has not happened.
Also, know that the Manchester Community Schools Board of Education policy, adopted by the Board of Education on September 17, 2018, in part, states: “Protocols established by the County Health Department shall be followed.”
Students that are not in compliance with this order and these Board of Education policies, including the wearing of a mask during their time inside any of our school buildings, will be subject to Manchester Community Schools Student Code of Conduct violations and accompanying penalties. This is certainly not our goal, but there are many civil and monetary penalties that the district will be subject to for non-compliance.
Additionally, all parents and visitors to our school, including any of our indoor athletic events, will also continue to be required to wear facial coverings and masks while inside our school buildings. We will continue to work with the Washtenaw County Health Department, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, and the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners to make sure that all of our students, staff, visitors, and families remain safe. We will continue to offer our Virtual Learning option to students this week, as well as offer the option for a medically documented exemption, but all students will be required to adhere to these orders in order to attend our schools.
Please let me know if you have any questions regarding this update.
Dr. Brad Bezeau
Manchester Community Schools