It was a fast Howell Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Monday. One board member called the meeting “very disheartening, to say the least.”
Members of Unmask Livingston & Surrounding Areas showed up for a planned storming of the Howell and Brighton school board meetings, the aim of which, I think, was to demand students not be required to wear facial masks for in-person classes.
There remains one big problem for the Unmaskers: the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Emergency Order mandates that masks be worn any time people from two or more households are present in any shared space including: 1. In any indoor or outdoor public space; 2. In any business, school or government building.
The school board was absolutely right when it not once, but twice, requested the Unmaskers put on their masks. The school board was right, once again, when it adjourned the meeting because the Unmask group refused to comply with the requests.
It was all over in less than four minutes.
The Unmaskers then took to yelling at the Howell board members before rushing to the Brighton Area Schools Board of Education meeting; the Unmaskers arrived just as the Brighton meeting was being adjourned. Reports are that the Unmaskers started yelling at people there, too.
So much yelling at the very people who have worked long and hard all year to keep education going, to keep our kids in school, and to keep everyone safe. How dare they?
I view school board member as one of the toughest elected jobs out there. God bless those who serve, and at this time in Howell, we are blessed with an outstandingly wonderful and well-regarded board and administrative team. It hasn’t always been this way in the district, and I am among those profoundly appreciative of the thoughtful (and generally un-newsworthy) manner in which the board goes about its business.
Historically, the public can be especially brutal on school boards when it comes to cultural issues. I’ve yet to see parents mob school board meetings over math curriculum, demanding that Geometry not be taught because all those theorems don’t align with what they’ve read on Facebook; however, in my three decades covering the news in Livingston County, I’ve seen battles erupt over a multitude of cultural issues. In Howell, those issues have included books deemed inappropriate (remember the “Freedom Writers Diary” controversy?), dress codes, rainbow flags, sex education, exposed midriffs, and religious musical selections, to name a few.
But there’s been nothing like this battle over mask-wearing.
As each of us struggles with what seems to be our never-ending pandemic, the stakes remain high. So, too, should our level of vigilance. It’s not difficult to understand that as we defy mandates in the name of “freedom,” our COVID numbers go up, making us anything but free.
For me, it’s distressing to see basic health practices politicized. As in pandemics past, the basics — knowledge, hand washing, distance keeping, mask wearing and vaccines — have triumphed over disease. This continues to be a difficult time, and we need to understand that it will keep on being a difficult time until we get control over the virus.
It’s also distressing to see parents act like tantrumming toddlers over the wearing of masks in order to attend class in person.
If you take the current rise of bully politics — where the louder you are, the righter you must be — and couple it with conspiracy theories and “internet research,” well, you can understand how there is now a whole cadre of people who consider themselves legal, educational, medical, and public health experts who are confident that they know better than actual experts.
And in the case of the Unmask group, that it is also somehow constructive to yell at public servants.
“Last night’s board meeting was very disheartening, to say the least,” said board member Courtney Tarara in a statement. “We have always, and will always welcome the public to our meetings, and listen to what they have to say. In return, we ask that it is done respectfully and peacefully.”
As the board adjourned the meeting, the Unmask crowd hurled comments and insults, calling the board “cowards,” “criminals,” and “dictators”; accusing them of “medical malpractice”; and threatening their seats.
“You name it, and I am pretty sure it was said last night,” Tarara said. “To be clear, we all took an oath of office that requires us to protect our students and staff, and to educate our students.”
See and hear for yourself: Watch these videos that were posted on the Unmask Livingston Facebook page:
You can also watch the Howell Public Schools Board of Education video of the meeting here:
The Unmask group — which hosted a “Let Freedom Ring” rally at the Howell City Park on Saturday — appears to have all over it the fingerprints of Mike Detmer, the GOP primary candidate for Congress who gained fame for a selfie with Proud Boys at a rally in Lansing just about a year ago.
You can check out the flyer for the “Let Freedom Ring” meeting here:
Superintendent Erin MacGregor said the school board meeting would be rescheduled for Monday, April 19, and the district would explore options to hold it safely. I am guessing that since the City of Howell has an Emergency Resolution in place to allow for virtual meetings, the board will probably Zoom.
The last words go to Tarara, and I hope we all take them to heart:
“We understand not everyone supports wearing masks, which is why we gave all parents the option to choose either in-person school or virtual. If you don’t want your child wearing a mask, then you have a choice to choose virtual. Verbally assaulting the superintendent, his staff, and the board of education will get you nowhere. Your voice would have been heard last night had you been respectful.”