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TCAPS reverses course, mandates universal masking

Taylor Wizner
Interlochen Public Radio
TCAPS board members during a meeting on August 20, discuss a masking policy for the upcoming school year.

Traverse City Area Public Schools' Board of Education voted 5-1 Friday afternoon to reverse its masking policy– now requiring masks to be worn by all students and staff.

It will reevaluate the decision at a board meeting on September 27.

The board faced pressure from parents and local physicians who disliked its earlier policy which recommended masks but kept them optional, as well as families equally adamant their children should not wear masks.

In the absence of a state mandate, school districts and their local health departments must decide mask wearing policies at schools.

Several of the TCAPS board members said the guidance from the county health department was not clear or helpful to them as they made their decision.

Erica Moon Mohr said she believed county health officials were unwilling to give advice because of recent policies enacted by the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners.

“I would be remiss without saying that the pressures of county commissioners and the recent passing of the resolution has put this entire situation in a complete catastrophe,” she said. “If you ask anyone in the state of Michigan there is no district except for TCAPS going through this right now.”

According to some board members, strong support for universal masking from local doctors, TCAPS teachers, the state’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, and federal public health officials influenced their decision to make masks mandatory. Rising hospitalizations in the region and the fact that children 12 and under cannot yet get the COVID vaccine also played a factor.

“For me it’s simple, mask up and we can keep school face-to-face,” said Trustee Flournoy Humphreys.

Board member Sue Kelly was the lone vote in opposition. She said she personally supports wearing masks but doesn’t think it should be mandatory.

“Who’s going to mandate what the kids are doing at the birthday parties?" Kelly said. "Where does it stop, where does it start? I believe it starts at the home with the families."

Members of the public who spoke at Friday’s meeting were mixed on the issue. Many felt strongly that mask-wearing should be a choice. Some questioned the motives of the doctors who spoke to the school board about the need for universal masking.

Those in favor of masking up worried about the risks to unvaccinated children.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.