Berrien Co. parents protest mask mandate on first day of school
ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- As students and staff pulled into St. Joseph High School for the start of the year, they were met with signs calling to ‘Unmask Our Kids’ and for ‘Freedom to Choose.’
Some parents were unhappy with not only their school board’s vote two weeks ago in favor of universal masking, but an additional order from the Berrien County Health Department which said until community transmission can get back down to low or moderate for at least 21 days, everyone in schools must mask up.
“What we’re here for is freedom of choice, that’s it, we don’t want it to get twisted – it’s not anti-mask, anti-vax,” said district parent Luke Andresen.
Later on, a handful of students walked out to join demonstrators.
Superintendent Jenny Fee said the district was aware of the plans and built time in the morning for students to participate.
“They were very respectful and appropriate in exercising their right just off school property, there were about five students who walked out over that 15 minute period and joined the protestors but then they came back in and that was all that transpired,” said Fee.
St. Joe parents weren’t the only ones protesting a mask order Tuesday morning, they also happened outside Watervliet and Buchanan high schools.
At both districts, class started last week without a mask mandate.
Protest organizers at St. Joe said they’ll continue to demonstrate until their side is heard.
“It’s not a ‘please give us our rights’ we have the rights, we give the government the power, they work for us and we are reminding them of that,” said Andresen.
The Berrien County Health Department provided ABC57 with a statement, saying “The Berrien County Health Department respects our residents’ rights to peacefully gather and express their opinion regarding the recent public health order requiring masks in educational settings. As the local public health agency serving Berrien County, we will continue to promote the science and data as well as accurate information about COVID-19. With sustained high transmission in our community, it is critical that we are taking all the steps we can to slow the spread of the virus. Using the layered mitigation strategies, such as wearing masks when in indoor public places, staying home when sick, and continuing to practice good hand hygiene will help prevent infections within our school communities.”