Plans for Berrien Co. school districts after mask order lifted

NOW: Plans for Berrien Co. school districts after mask order lifted

NILES, Mich. -- ABC57 reached out to each public school district in Berrien County to see what they’re choosing to do with mask requirements moving forward

Nearly every district has gone back to optional with the exception of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor.

New Buffalo, Bridgman and River Valley still haven’t announced what they’ll do.

The Berrien County Health Department wrote in their release Wednesday that despite being forced to rescind their school mask order, it had been showing promising results.

In less than 30 days, quarantines were down 50% in schools from the first week. 

“When we’re universally masked, the recommendation is for quarantine to be at three feet, so we did see a decrease when we went to universal masking in the number of quarantines, in terms of case numbers, there does not seem to be a real pattern,” said Dr. Dan Applegate, Superintendent of Niles Community Schools.

Niles returned to its strong recommendation for masks Thursday.

Benton Harbor chose to enact its own mandate back in August and it’s staying in place for now.

“I’m well in tune with our community – I go to our churches, shop at our grocery store and am at our gas stations – all along I’m talking to parents and students and the word on the street is we should wear a mask,” said Dr. Andrae Townsel, Superintendent of Benton Harbor Area Schools.

After their district spent all of last year doing virtual learning, the school board decided masks are imperative to giving students the best learning opportunity. 

“Our kids and teachers have been doing great with that, we’re not going to let a mask conversation distract us,” said Dr. Townsel.

Both districts said they’ll continue to meet with the health department each week and value their guidance and data.

“There’s a lot of divide in the country about this and I really don’t want that to have an impact on our children, we’ve really got to find common ground and that is our students,” said Dr. Applegate.

School boards can continue to vote on their own mask mandates or other mitigation measures as those decisions now go back to being decided on a district-by-district basis.

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