Allendale school board votes to remove masking from board policies
Published October 31, 2023
Written by Athens
Photography by Simply American
The Allendale board is evaluating school policies with an eye on protecting students for the future.
At a recent meeting, it was the mask policy that was under scrutiny.
Allendale Public Schools states on their website that their rules and administrative policies are the result of a combined effort of the Board of Education, the District’s staff and Neola.
Neola is an educational consulting firm serving schools in Michigan, as well as Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, West Virginia and Florida. Their mission is to “help school leaders set direction through policy and address the policy implications and mandates of the ever-evolving laws and regulations from all levels of government.”
On September 14, 2020, Allendale Public Schools adopted a masking policy from Neola:
8450.01 – PROTECTIVE FACIAL COVERINGS DURING PANDEMIC/EPIDEMIC EVENTS
Following are a few of the directives included in the policy, which last was updated on April 19, 2021:
The Superintendent is given the power to activate this policy—in alignment with public health officials and in accordance with government edicts—and communicates the requirement of all school staff, volunteers, and visitors (including vendors) to wear appropriate face masks/coverings on school grounds.
The policy dictates what constitutes a mask, when, where, and how it should be worn, and what qualifies someone for an exception.
A student failing to wear a mask is subject to disciplinary action according to the Student Code of Conduct/Student Discipline code or reassigned to an online/virtual learning environment.
If employees receive approval from the District administration for a mask exemption, possible accommodations may be discussed which would follow Board policies and guidelines under ADA.
Work Session Discussion—The Policy Is Outdated
At the September 25, 2023 work session, the Allendale Board of Education reviewed the relevance of the mask policy.
Vice President Anna Hendricks kicked off the discussion:
“With reports that have come back from [the] CDC from the time the pandemic started until now, there’s just been a lot of new things changing… So when you read this policy, it’s just really outdated.”
Hendricks continued, “It sounds like Garth (the Superintendent) did talk with Neola and they’re possibly investigating this. But, they’re not fully tuned into Michigan since they… have different districts and other states, so that wasn’t maybe on their radar.”
Superintendent Garth Cooper responded, “This was a policy that was born out of… the pandemic… and it was in response to directives from the State of Michigan. And so, when we adopted it there were some requirements listed at the bottom…. [T]he update in ‘21 actually took off those requirements because the requirements were removed by MDHHS and the State of Michigan….”
Cooper added, “This [policy] is the one that no longer has any state guidance that we have to follow. So, we can choose to have it [the policy] or not to have it.”
Board member Liz Ramey added her comments:
“[The policy] definitely eludes to just pandemic, epidemic events. In the event that we did end up having something… another pandemic or epidemic event, I don’t know if we wouldn’t just default to this policy. We’re going to have to vet what the particular precautions of that epidemic are at the time. So, this very well could not apply at that time either.”
Unanimous Vote To Remove The Mask Policy
During the October 9, 2023 board meeting, Superintendent Cooper shared the clarification he’d received from Neola regarding the mask policy.
Cooper stated: “Response I got from Neola is that there’s nothing requiring us to keep this policy. It can empower the district to respond quickly, if they choose to. All the language in there was optional. At this point, the only thing they postured about is making sure there’s no language in the handbook regarding this. And I did not see any. So, there should be no conflict with that.”
“So according to Neola,” Cooper continued, “there’s nothing in the requirements to have this policy.”
The motion to remove the mask policy passed unanimously.
Do other schools in our county have policies that were born out of the pandemic? Are those policies still relevant?