Diligent and curious elementary school students sitting in their classroom and carefully observing the class while wearing protective face mask during COVID-19 pandemic Photo by Getty.
Diligent and curious elementary school students sitting in their classroom and carefully observing the class while wearing protective face mask during COVID-19 pandemic

Moms and teachers told us why they are masking their kids, and why they are ready to curb the virus so they don’t have to anymore.

As of publication, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services strongly recommends universal masking in schools. 

MICHIGAN—To mask or not to mask: That’s the dispute which has divided schools and sparked protests in Michigan and across the country.

As new variants of the coronavirus spawn and spread, parents across the state have critical decisions to make on masking and in-person education. 

In school districts with mask requirements in place, parents have a protocol already set to follow, and little discretion on when children will and won’t mask. But in districts that stop short of requiring masks, parents have to weigh their own considerations on whether or not to mask their child.

“I see Florida and Louisiana right now and it’s a nightmare down there. And I don’t want that to be here,” Sarah Harris, a Maple Valley mother of two, said.

Recently, a Florida school district asked 440 students to quarantine. Hospital systems in both states are overwhelmed.

That’s why moms like Sarah Harris want masks back in schools. 

Specifically because of the Delta variant, Sarah Harris thinks that masks are the best way to avoid a shutdown and school lockdowns. 

Sarah Harris has a son whose school was shut down at times last year. Going online adversely impacted his grades, and she doesn’t want to repeat that experience this year.

“I think he’s on his computer playing Roblox instead of doing his homework, because he would go to every meeting and then he would log off and do his stuff,” she said. “[The teacher] wouldn’t tell me until a few weeks behind.”

As the fall semester begins, the current seven-day average for COVID-19 is 31% higher than the peak average last summer, according to CDC data.

Unvaccinated people are those who remain the most likely to get sick and spread the virus, though they’re not the only ones because of breakthrough infections. Vaccines are available for all above the age of 12, but not for children below that age.

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Sarah Harris’ district tends to take a more conservative approach to masking, and this year, the school district is dropping masks. It has implemented other safety measures. 

“People just want to believe what they want to believe and don’t want to take it seriously where I live,” Sarah Harris said.

Though of no relation to each other, Victoria Harris and Sarah Harris share a lot in common. Both are Maple Valley moms with school age children—and, of course, they share a last name. They differ, however, on how in-person school should be conducted.

Victoria Harris said she’s in favor of mitigation measures, such as social distancing, contact tracing and sanitization. And she believes her district has been successful with those in place. 

But as a reading intervention specialist for young children, she finds it’s at times more difficult to teach and understand young children with masks. In her field, children often try to mirror mouth movements to sound out words, so being able to see facial expressions is key to teaching and learning. 

Harris, the schoolteacher, received her first dose of the vaccine, she says, because she doesn’t want to be sent home in case of an outbreak. And for people 12 and up, with the choice to get the vaccine, she at least understands the ultimatum: vaccine or mask. She feels more strongly when it comes to younger children.

“[Older] people have the option to take matters into their own hands,” Victoria Harris said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services have urged schools in Michigan to mask up, following the Delta variant spread. Those instructions follow CDC and expert health guidance, which is based off studies that show masks stop the vast majority of viral particles from reaching the open air. 

Two significant state medical associations, the Michigan Association of Family Physicians and the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, came out in support of universal maskings in schools this past week, as well.

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However, these aren’t requirements. Local governments and school districts are the ones ultimately making the call and often coming to different conclusions. 

Jess Tee, a Williamston mom, has questions about how that decision was reached in her district.

This year, the school board offered a survey to parents, but at completion, Tee noticed an option to submit another answer, so that people could possibly submit multiple forms to sway the decision. She wasn’t sure if the link worked or not.

Last time Williamston administered a survey, she said, it had problems as well. People from out of the district began to vote.

“Terrible,” she wrote on Facebook.

Williamston will begin the year without a mask requirement, though the school does “encourage” masks indoors and is open to change, Superintendent Adam Spina wrote.

“I’m hoping that many that have stated they won’t be requiring [masks] change their minds,” Tee said.

Victoria Harris, the reading teacher, hopes that politics don’t get in the way of children’s school experience.

Her daughter used to come home from school and play doctor. Her cloth mask made believe as a prop, she treated imaginary symptoms of her sibling. Her daughter was so comfortable in a mask that she would sometimes forget to take it off when she’d come home from school. 

“These little ones are resilient,” Victoria Harris said. “At first they thought the masks were cool.”

In front of her children, Victoria Harris says she and her husband try to remain neutral. She doesn’t want her kids to go into school and “reject the rules and policies” but instead “be respectful and do our part.”

“That’s what bugs me is parents aren’t sensitive to their kids’ needs,” she said.

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