Berrien County parents file suit over multiple school mask, quarantine mandates

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. — Three Berrien County school districts are the subject of a new lawsuit filed by parents who are fed up with mask and quarantine mandates. 

“This is serious, this is affecting the way our children live their lives when this is a time they should feel comfort and love,” said Ashley White, a Lakeshore Public Schools parent. 

Berrien County Parents For School Freedom has gained hundreds of members upset with their school district’s implementing universal masking and mandatory quarantines for students. 

“Our goal is to get back to the point we were in pre-pandemic where if you’re sick, stay home, if you’re healthy and not showing symptoms, you can be in class with your peers,” said Victory Woodall, a St. Joseph Public Schools parent.  

While the Berrien County Health Department rescinded its mask mandate for schools at the end of September – citing the risk of losing funding under the state’s newly passed budget –  the decision whether to mask or not has been up to local elected school boards.

Lakeshore, St. Joseph and Watervliet among those that voted yes.

“We can’t make them the sacrificial lambs because we’re afraid for everyone else and they’re not looking at the whole student, like their mental health,” said Aimee Foster, a Lakeshore Public Schools parent.  

Quarantines are also part of the complaint.  

The suit – which consists of nine plaintiffs – claims, “There are at least three superintendents using unbridled and unfettered power” to enforce mandates. 

The Berrien County Health Department has also since relaxed quarantine guidelines for schools to match new CDC recommendations, but its implementation is ultimately up to individual districts as well.

“In times of public health emergencies, the health department has the authority to issue mandates, the schools do not,” said Krystal McCully, a Niles Community Schools parent. 

The suit also references Michigan Common Law Section 380.10, which states, “It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil's parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil's intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.”

These parents stand firm in the belief that they are most fit to decide on their children’s health. 

“It should be a choice, I’m not anti-mask, if somebody wants to wear a mask and feels like it is helping, absolutely do it,” said Sylvia Howley, a Watervliet Public Schools parent. 

ABC57 contacted Lakeshore, St. Joseph and Watervliet schools for comment and all said they can’t speak on pending litigation.

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