Benton Harbor revisiting superintendent's emergency powers request

NOW: Benton Harbor revisiting superintendent’s emergency powers request

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- The Benton Harbor Board of Education had to revise its previous approval of emergency powers for the superintendent following the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision to rescind previous executive orders by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Last week, the court handed down its ruling on a lawsuit against Gov. Whitmer’s use of power to issue a state of emergency and subsequent executive orders throughout the pandemic.

Despite Whitmer’s request that the court delay their decision’s effective date, that was denied Monday, throwing out her orders immediately.

Even though the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued subsequent orders requiring masks, social distancing and capacity limits – which previous legislation gives them authority to do – it doesn’t cover all of the questions looming now for Michiganders.

Including in Benton Harbor, where the school board’s previous approval of emergency powers for Superintendent Dr. Andrae Townsel had to be rescinded as a result of the court’s decision and brought back up for consideration at the board’s Tuesday meeting.

“We have a resolution going to the board that will allow me to implement our COVID-19 preparedness plan by waiving and temporarily suspending board policy,” said Dr. Townsel.

Dr. Townsel said the resolution will allow him to make quick decisions in response to the pandemic for the district.

“If there was an outbreak at one of our schools it may be a possibility that we have to shut down and quarantine, and I need to be able to make that decision at the drop of a dime and not have to wait for that to be voted upon,” said Dr. Townsel.

The district will continue to refer to the state health department, and its new orders, when it comes to safety measures.

“We are completely in compliance with our Michigan Department of Health, if our officials are saying this is what it takes to be safe, we’re in compliance,” said Dr. Townsel.

Since virtual meetings were authorized under Gov. Whitmer’s previous orders, there are also now questions if those comply with the Open Meetings Act – thus, the district allowed in-person attendance in addition to the virtual option at Tuesday’s meeting.

Dr. Townsel’s emergency powers resolution was ultimately approved by the Board of Education.

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