Owosso schools

Students stand at the entrance of Emerson Elementary School for the first day of classes Aug. 19 in Owosso.

OWOSSO — Owosso Public Schools will enact a 10-day mask mandate for all students and staff after the Thanksgiving holiday break amid a surge in COVID-19 cases — a decision that drew mixed reactions after the board made its decision.

A number of parents, students and community members took time during Monday’s board of education meeting to voice their opinions on the impending mandate, set to begin Monday when students return for in-person instruction.

“Our best way to address this issue is to allow the people with the best and most robust immunity, that is our children, to get sick and develop the total cellular antibody response that nature has provided,” one woman, whose grandchildren are enrolled in the district, claimed. “When this happens, the virus will become less active in the population and the children will actually be a protection for the other more vulnerable people.

“Constant masking, testing, quarantining and closing schools is just delaying the end point of what has historically and universally been accepted as herd immunity,” she added. “Immunity eventually caused other pandemics to self-resolve.”

The board of education voted 6-1 during a special meeting Nov. 16 to enact the 10-day mask mandate for students and staff to slow spread of the virus. At that time of the decision, school officials reported 76 positive cases district-wide, including 14 among staff, with approximately 321 students quarantined.

The district transitioned to remote learning Nov. 18-19, and opted to forgo instruction this week entirely, a move Superintendent Andrea Tuttle described as the “least intrusive to families” given (Monday) through Friday were already scheduled vacation days.

“The mask mandate after Thanksgiving is an attempt to mitigate the exposure to the positive cases that will be returning to our schools after the holiday break,” Tuttle said Monday. “As you know, last year we saw upticks in COVID cases after the indoor holiday gatherings and if the trend holds I am concerned that we’ll face another potential shutdown if we do not do something to slow the exposure and infection rate.”

Tuttle explained that teachers will work to build in mask breaks throughout the 10-day mandate, which runs through Dec. 13. Students participating in extracurricular events will be tested weekly, she added, and will not be required to wear masks while actively participating in practices and/or competitions.

An Owosso High School junior voiced her support for the mandate during the meeting, explaining she’s worn a mask since returning to school and has avoided illness while many of her peers without masks have gotten sick.

“I think it’s important to wear masks when we return to school because I want to be able to have a normal high school experience,” the student said. “If we’re constantly being sent online, we’re not going to have that.”

Others argued requiring a mask infringes on a person’s freedom.

“This argument ignores that schools are public spaces marked throughout by restrictions on some freedoms in the name of protecting more basic liberties guaranteed to everyone,” Trustee Adam Easlick responded. “Parents do not have the freedom to come and go at the schools. They have to check in at the office to visit, they have to show ID to pick up children, provide immunization records to enroll their children and ensure that children adhere to the dress code.

“What you believe to be true is a private matter, but if you act on those beliefs in public spaces in a way that threatens the lives of others then it is no longer a personal choice, but a matter of public concern,” he continued. “As a parent, it is our job to teach our children to not only be concerned with their safety, but to be concerned about the safety of others around them.”

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