Berrien County schools plan to return in-person, no mask or vaccine requirements
BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — School districts are starting to release their plans for the upcoming year and questions of mask and vaccine requirements are at the top of minds.
Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued their recommendation that all children over two wear a mask this fall.
The AAP emphasized the importance of getting back to in-person learning this year, but said both students and staff should all wear masks regardless of vaccination.
In Berrien County, officials feel confident in their decision right now to let individuals make their own choice.
“The current trajectory for this fall is optimistic, parents are able to send their kids back to school, in-person, without masks,” said Gillian Conrad, MPH, Communications Manager for the Berrien County Health Department.
Rising vaccination numbers and continued low transmission rates are the two markers the Berrien County Health Department and school districts have focused on while collaborating on plans for the upcoming year.
“If you want to send your child to school in a mask, if we have a staff member who wants to wear a mask, they can and most of the county is working on the same plan, we’ve all shared, given input,” said Dave Ehlers, Superintendent at Coloma Community Schools.
While the state could decide to require the COVID-19 vaccine in schools – just like with chicken pox or measles – Berrien County officials have no plans to issue any mandates, but their recommendations could change if there’s another case surge.
“Think of COVID-19 mitigation strategies like layers of protection you can add on if transmission rates increase – masks and social distancing – but vaccination remains the most protective activity,” said Conrad.
With less than 30 percent of residents between ages 12 and 19 vaccinated, schools are encouraging getting the shot.
But either way, the plan is to start as normal, with just a few COVID-19 measures sticking around.
“The only thing we’ll have to do at the start of the school year, regardless of transmission, is if there’s a positive case we’ll still contact trace and deal with quarantines,” said Ehlers.
As of Monday, 53% of Berrien County residents over 12 have gotten their first dose.