Health department forced to rescind mask requirements for schools

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BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. --- Universal masking has been implemented at all Berrien county schools since earlier this month and the health department says its caused a 50% decrease in new cases and quarantines. While the decision to rescind was not an easy one — they say they could not risk loosing these essential funds.

“I think it’s kinda dangerous to make that decision, but I would trust the schools as individuals could make a smart decision to have the mandate of wearing the mask and still make that a normal thing," said Quinton King, a Niles Father.

Quinton king is a father of two boys enrolled in Niles schools. Upon learning the health department rescinded the mask requirements within the county starting Wednesday evening he felt concerned because he believes masks have helped reduce case numbers in the classroom.

According to communications manager for the Health Department Gillian Conrad — she says it was not the ideal decision but the language in the new state budget signed by Governor Whitmer gave them no option.

“Governor Whitmer did state today that this language included in the budget bills is unconstitutional. Our legal counsel did advise that that needs to be held up in a court of law and that really forced our hand in making this decision." said Conrad.

The budget which states the department would loose out on approximately two million dollars of state funding was something they were not willing to risk.

Despite this, Conrad says while the health department will no longer have a mandate individual schools can choose to keep them in place moving forward.

While some school leaders may choose to opt out of universal masking Conrad says they will continue to encourage them to implement COVID-19 policies.

“There should certainly be other protective layers in place, including social distancing, the strict adherence to isolation in quarantine, and using a 6 foot radius for that quarantine rather than the reduction of the 3 foot radius that can be in place when universal masking is happening," said Conrad.

And while individual schools are still making their decisions at this time — some parents are hoping things will remain the same moving forward.

“This is like a community, a tight community around here. So I’m hoping that they could just keep the same tradition going and making sure that kids are safe and put first," said King.

The order is officially rescinded as of 11:59 pm Wednesday.

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