Chelsea school parents and residents debate masks

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The debate around masks is a passionate one for many, including in the Chelsea School District (CSD) with the new school year now upon students and their families.

CSD has a plan in place when it comes to dealing with COVID-19 concerns and its details can be read on the district’s website as the district says it’s anticipating a return to a more normal school year, even with the necessity to continue mitigation efforts due to COVID and its variants.

However, for many the case isn’t closed with the topic of masks being one of the big points of debate at the Aug. 23 school board meeting.

During public comment, both sides of the debate were represented.

In this story, the Sun Times News (STN) will take a look at two viewpoints; one in support of masks and one against or maybe better yet, one who wants the choice.

Clay Eckert, a parent of six kids with five of them of school age this year, was one who spoke. He cited his five-year-old son Kasper and his current challenges with enunciating words as part of his reasoning to question the district’s mask plan.

He implored the district to give parents the choice as to whether or not their kids mask up.

STN followed up with Eckert following the meeting. He’s very concerned about his son and says for some kids there’s a small window open early in life to help them improve a speech issue. He says they work hard at this with their son, who he describes as a fun-loving personality and who is excited to start kindergarten.

It’s their hope that he will get some help in the classroom with his speech. It is the school district, in big part, that led them to move to Chelsea six years ago. But as the start of school quickly approaches, Eckert said he and his family are not sure about the classroom and may keep him at home for homeschooling.

“I am worried that the teacher will not be able to look at Kasper and understand what he’s not doing to enunciate appropriately,” Eckert said. “If she looks at him with a mask on, she’s not going to be able to tell how he’s moving his mouth and what he’s not doing.”

He said when enunciating and teaching such letters as S, R or T, using one’s mouth as a visual tool is important in order to teach it properly, and he believes a mask will interfere with this.

“And vice versa, if Kasper is in a classroom, children that do enunciate appropriately and if he's in a classroom with a teacher that does as well, he’s not going to be able to pick up how they are moving their mouth. I feel like it’s really a visual thing.”

Eckert has created a Change.org petition called “Unmask our Children in school!! Let PARENTS decide, Not politicians!!” and it can be found https://www.change.org/unmaskChelsea.

Another CSD resident that spoke during public comment was Dr. Glenn Fox, who is a Lecturer and Co-Director of Anatomical Donations at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Fox said masks have become a political symbol, but they shouldn’t be.

In follow up with STN, Fox said at the meeting he spoke to the positive engagement of all parents in advocacy for their children, and to support CSD Superintendent Dr. Julie Helber in her back-to-school COVID plan.

“I have confidence in Dr. Helber, and while I do not completely agree with her decision to make mask wearing dependent on transmission data, I feel she is doing a solid job,” said Fox. “I feel Chelsea schools should follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Washtenaw County Health Department, and American Society of Pediatrics that all advocate for universal mask wearing indoors.”

He went on to say, “Masks have unfortunately become a political symbol.”

“They are not a political symbol in the OR (Operating Room) or the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) - they are tools that effectively limit the spread of pathogens and protect patients,” Fox said. “We are so focused on rights, despite Jacobson vs. Massachusetts in which the Supreme Court set the public health precedent that the community has the power over individual liberty in protecting itself. We should be focused on our civic duty to wear masks - to give our children the opportunity to participate to help limit the spread of COVID, and to be part of the solution. The science is very clear, and while it may be difficult to interpret, there is extremely strong consensus among scientists that vaccines and masks are both safe and effective tools in limiting the spread of disease and specifically COVID.”

According to the district’s website, “the Washtenaw County Health Department has issued a COVID Advisory
press release due to increasing numbers of COVID cases in the county. They are utilizing metrics to determine which phase and have recommendations and requirements that align with each phase.

Washtenaw County is currently in the orange or "substantial" phase of COVID transmission. The Chelsea School District plan for masking is outlined below:

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