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TCAPS looks to neighboring health department for guidance on masking

Traverse City Area Public Schools board meeting January 10, 2022
Max Copeland
Interlochen Public Radio
Traverse City Area Public Schools board meeting January 10, 2022

In the meantime, TCAPS schools will remain virtual until at least January 18, due to staffing shortages.

Last week Michigan had record high new daily infections of COVID-19. Traverse City Area Public Schools district closed all of its schools on Friday when nearly a fifth of its teachers called out from work.

At Monday's meeting, the TCAPS board voted unanimously to reinstate a mask mandate. Just like a previous mandate, everyone will be required to wear a mask inside TCAPS buildings regardless of age or vaccination status. The new mandate takes effect January 11, and will stay in place until the Benzie-Leelanau Health Department no longer requires universal masking in schools in it’s area. Schools in those counties have had mask requirements since August.

“As a school board, we need to look outside of ourselves to health professionals to make [that] leadership guidance, and Grand Traverse Health Department has their hands tied at this point,” said TCAPS board member Sue Kelly, referring to a resolution passed by Grand Traverse County Commissioners.

Among other things, the resolution states the county shouldn’t question anyone’s exemption from wearing a facemask, promotes individual choice in regards to personal health decisions and also changed the county health department’s messaging around vaccines—to encourage people to discuss the risks and benefits of any such treatment with their doctor.

Critics argue it’s had a chilling effect on the Grand Traverse County Health Department and the sort of guidance it can offer.

Scott Newman-Bale is the TCAPS board president. He said in the absence of guidance from Grand Traverse County the board looked nearby for help.

“Our county—through various issues—is not able to make such policy even if they wanted to,” said Newman-Bale. “Therefore, we have to look to the nearest health department who is able and willing.”

Still, not everyone agrees that the Grand Traverse County Health Department is unable to act. Grand Traverse County Commission chair Rob Hentschel said that claim is “completely fabricated.”

He argues the resolution passed by county commissioners doesn’t hinder the health department from making recommendations. Hentschel also said the county’s current guidance is in line with medical experts.

“When Grand Traverse health officials have echoed…the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recommendations to TCAPS, they didn’t like what they heard,” said Hentschel. “They didn’t get what they wanted…so they went doctor shopping.”

On August 13, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recommended that schools require universal masking. In a press release Monday the department again recommended universal masking in schools.

Max Copeland is the local weekday host of All Things Considered on Interlochen Public Radio and the producer of The Up North Lowdown, IPR’s weekly news podcast.