By Megan Kelley
The Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education met on Wednesday, just one day after the Oakland County Health Department (OCHD) issued an emergency health order mandating masks be worn in all daycares and elementary, middle, high and vocational schools, both public and private, regardless of vaccination status.
Lake Orion administrators had previously communicated that they intended to have masks be optional during the 2021-22 school year, but added that should a health order be issued by the county health department, the district would follow that mandate.
According to the district, the health order extends to educational institutions that are “serving children”; therefore, the mandate does not extend to board meetings or athletic competition.
As has become custom during his COVID-19 updates, Superintendent Ben Kirby reviewed some of the available data, noting that the county-wide positivity rate, as of Aug. 22, was at 6.6 percent.
Additionally, within the district, of the 800 student-athletes currently participating in sports, there have been zero positive COVID-19 cases, Kirby said.
Summer school also had zero COVID-19 cases. However, summer band did have two COVID-19 positive cases, Kirby said.
The mandate is specific to the indoor setting and does have certain exemptions.
“It’s a matter of wearing facial coverings while inside. It is not related to outside, so you do not have to do anything outside,” Kirby said. “There are some exceptions and I think that that is every consistent with what the orders were in the past. So, those exemptions — if there is a medical reason that is provided to the school district in writing, and it has to be from a Michigan medical doctor or a Michigan osteopathic medical professional, those are the two criteria that are in the order.”
Other exemptions include students with IEP’s (Individualized Educational Plan) or 504’s, if a facemask inhibits the student’s education, and vaccinated staff members who work with students that are hard of hearing or are developmental students, Kirby said.
“We have talked with our legal team to understand if there’s any different ones, any leeway, but those are the three that are available,” said Kirby.
As far as quarantines, the health department has stated that contact between unvaccinated people (within 3-6 feet), will result in necessary quarantine unless both people are wearing a mask. Those individuals who are fully vaccinated will not be required to quarantine.
This mandate extends throughout the county regardless of local positivity rates, something board vice president Birgit McQuiston felt was unreasonable.
“It’s been a value of our board — it’s a value of the Oakland County School Board Association, a value of Michigan Association of School Boards — for local control. I’m a proponent in advocating for that and I was just wondering if, as a board, (we) seek to advocate with our legislatures of local control on this,” McQuiston said. “I think it’s unreasonable that we have to fall under the statistics for Oakland County.”
Of the 10 members of the public who chose to speak during public participation, a majority of them spoke against the mask mandate, some even threatening to pull their children from the district.
“Frankly, Lake Orion Community School’s number one obligation is not the health and safety of our children. The number one obligation of this entire community is to operate according to the law,” said district parent Holly Piceno. “With all due respect, I honest to goodness don’t think that anyone has any mal-intent here on the board. And I’m not ready to pull my kids out, but I will if I’m not seeing the overall child being educated in the proper sense and what I feel is appropriate.”
Several parents also expressed their concern about when all of the COVID-19 mandates and restrictions will end.
Just one person spoke to thank the board for following the implemented mandate.
Several community members speaking in favor of a maks mandate at the district’s meeting on Aug. 11.
LOCS is expected to follow the Oakland County Health Department mask mandate until the order is rescinded.