The signers of this petition are parents, family, and caretakers of Oakland County schoolchildren plus other concerned Michigan citizens who understand that outbreaks in schools will mean outbreaks in our communities. We are asking the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and/or Oakland County Health Division (OCHD) to issue a public health order (mandate) that will allow schools to remain open safely. We understand that not all of the recommended strategies are possible for every school to implement; however, at the very least, we ask you to order all districts to adopt the masking policies recommended by the CDC, MDHHS, and AAP until all individuals have an opportunity to be fully vaccinated. We also ask that you order Oakland County schools to work with the Oakland County Health Division to assist them with efforts to contact trace and quarantine students as needed. The MDHHS updated its guidance for schools in the publication Recommendations for Safer School Operations during COVID-19 on August 2, 2021. This guidance explains “[t]he most effective way to prevent transmission within school buildings, reduce disruptions to in person learning, and help protect people who are not fully vaccinated (including all children under the age of 12 years) is to layer multiple prevention strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” The key strategies the MDHHS and the CDC recommend to keep schools safer are the following:
- Promoting vaccination
- Consistent and correct mask use for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status
- Physical distancing of at least three feet (when this is not possible it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies)
- Screening testing
- Improved ventilation
- Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
- Staying home when sick
- Contact tracing in combination with quarantine, collaborating with the local health department
The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued similar guidance with a goal of keeping students safe and physically present in school. The AAP promotes a multi-pronged, layered approach that strongly emphasizes vaccination and universal masking for anyone in a school building (regardless of vaccination status).The Oakland County Health Division has not publicly released guidance as of August 6, 2021; however, they have communicated in correspondence that they will not be issuing orders to the districts.
Despite these recommendations, several Oakland County Public School districts released plans that incorporate few to none of the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) supported by the AAP, CDC, and MDHHS. Thus far, only three districts in Oakland County (Royal Oak, Ferndale, and Berkley) released plans where masks are required in any capacity. The overwhelming majority of districts’ policies make masks optional, regardless of vaccination status. The fact that the CDC, MDHHS, and the OCHD have not issued orders appears to have played a role in the districts’ decisions not to implement the scientifically sound, layered approach recommended. Here are some of examples of communications from our districts:
- “In the absence of any enforceable federal or state COVID restrictions or mask mandates, our plans for the fall are consistent with the protocols that are in place for our summer programs and camps.” – Clarkston Community Schools
- “Barring any new regulations or executive directives, we will allow families and staff members to make the personal choice of wearing a mask to school or school events.” – Oxford Schools
- “Masks will not be required to attend our in-person programming in the absence of a legal or binding health order requirement. The banner on their website states, “LOCS is abiding by the state's Coronavirus protocols and orders.” – Lake Orion Community Schools
- “In accordance with the CDC and MDHHS guidance, masks are recommended indoors for students and staff. Masks are not required in SLCS facilities.” – South Lyon Community Schools
Many of us have heard similar statements from our home school districts—they cannot or will not adopt any safety measure that is not ordered by the state or county.
The Delta variant has changed the risk level in our county from where it was this summer. According to the CDC and the OCHD, because Oakland County’s “Level of Community Transmission” is now “substantial,” all people, regardless of vaccination status, should be masking in public. Yet, our schools are planning to welcome kids back to the classroom without this important safety measure in place. The risk levels have changed, but most of our districts remain committed to a mask optional policy, even for elementary age kids who are unable to be vaccinated.
Given our schools’ minimal safety plans (which they claim were developed in consultation with the health departments), OCHD suspending contact tracing is unconscionable and will result in many preventable cases and outbreaks. This further endangers the safety of our children and jeopardizes their ability to remain in the classroom. We understand the need to provide schools flexibility regarding quarantines in order to avoid unnecessary disruptions to in-person education; however, suspending contact tracing and quarantining altogether, or not contacting parents directly when their child has been exposed, is unacceptable.
Parents have been contacting their districts, the OCHD, and the MDHHS. Our administrators have largely told us all the same thing—they will not be implementing NPIs such as masking, testing, contact tracing, quarantining, or screening without an order from either the county or state. When parents reach out to the OCHD and MDHHS, however, we are being told that you will provide only recommendations to the districts.
Many of us have children who are unable to be vaccinated. You cannot expect parents to send their children into a school that is not willing to follow the guidance issued by the health departments. You have asked the districts to create plans that will ensure the safety of our children. You have issued clear guidance, but many school districts have decided they do not want to or do not need to follow your recommendations. As public health agencies, you have broad authority to issue orders and mandates to keep the population safe. It is beyond time you do so.
 “Oakland County Health Division has suspended contact tracing and mandatory quarantining of individuals who have been in close contact with a COVID-positive person.” https://www.clarkston.k12.mi.us/news/news-details/~board/district/post/fall-2021-return-to-school-plans