Districts require masks when students are indoors
By Lisa Brody
Local public school districts will be requiring masks for students due to the COVID-19 variant now circulating in the communities.
In a reversal from an earlier communication, Birmingham Public Schools will require all students and staff in grades pre-K through 8 to wear masks during indoor activities beginning Monday, August 23, and students and staff in grades 9-12 and post-secondary will be required to wear masks while our county is in the substantial or high transmission levels, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), superintendent Dr. Embekka Roberson informed the district on Monday, August 16.
In Bloomfield Hills Schools, mask use is required for all students, staff and visitors, two years of age and older, when indoors during school hours, regardless of vaccination status, effective Monday, August 23, superintendent Pat Watson said in a community email on Wednesday, August 18.
Presently, Oakland County is in high transmission level.
Roberson and Watson said the masking decisions will continue for the start of school, beginning Monday, August 30.
On July 19, the Birmingham district had shared its protocols for the 2021-2022 school year based upon information they had at that time, which was masking for unvaccinated individuals only. However, since then, the delta, a more virulent variant of COVID-19, has been spreading throughout Michigan and Oakland County.
“Since our July communication, MDHHS (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) has released two updates,” Roberson wrote parents. “The latest update from MDHHS strongly recommends that school districts require masks. Today, the BPS Central Leadership Team spoke with the Oakland County Health Division (OCHD) to clarify anticipated guidance. A vital factor in our decision was the statement from OCHD that quarantines may be eliminated when an individual is vaccinated or both parties are masked and at least three feet apart from one another. Our focus is to provide a full year of in-person learning and our new guidelines will aid in keeping our students in school for the duration of the school year.”
Following in-depth conversations with OCHD and recent updates from MDHHS, Birmingham's district's protocols are: to mandate masks for all students while indoors for grades Pre-K through 8 during all low, moderate, substantial and high transmission levels; and mandate masks for students in grades 9-12/Postsecondary when indoors while the county is in the CDC transmission level of substantial or high.
“The decision was reached by continuous review of the data, numerous conversations with health experts and colleagues across the country, and a thorough review of the current quarantine guidelines, all with student learning and instruction at the forefront,” Watson said.
Noting he had had many conversations with parents on both sides of the mask and vaccination divide, he said all parents were of the consensus that “we need to have all students in school this school year.”
Watson said if there is a COVID case, quarantine protocol is as follows: “Students identified as close contacts in a classroom setting, with exposure greater than three feet who are masked, do not need to quarantine if they remain asymptomatic. Students who are unmasked at this distance will need to quarantine even if asymptomatic. Students identified as close contacts in a classroom setting with exposure distance within three feet must quarantine in accordance with OCHD guidance regardless of masking. OCHD is currently supporting a seven-day COVID-19 test option.”
COVID requirements: a PCR test, not rapid, that is collected within seven days; students may return to school no earlier than day eight with a negative PCR result; and the BHS district nurse will verify the negative test result.
Both superintendents note the situation remains fluid and can change at any date.