News Story

Elected School Board Authority Yields To Unelected Public Health Officials

School district board meetings throughout Michigan have irate parents expressing their anger over renewed mask mandates for the current school year. However, school boards have no say over whether students and staff are required to wear masks if the local health department issues a mandate.

In other words, elected school officials ultimately have no authority if their local health department forces a mask mandate or other health orders on residents, including students, during an epidemic.

“Unilaterally issued orders of this type, that are broad and last for an indefinite period, are historically unprecedented, so there are bound to be lots of legal uncertainty about them,” says Michael Van Beek, director of research at Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Climax-Scotts Community Schools in Kalamazoo County originally voted Aug. 23 to not require masks for the 2021-2022 school year, contrary to a Kalamazoo County Health Department order. Superintendent Doug Newington said based on current COVID rates and data in the area and because masks inhibit learning for young students, they would go against the public health order, according to MLive.

However, the school board voted 5-0 to reverse its decision Aug. 26. The schools issued a statement after meeting with health department noting if they do not comply with the mask mandate, the schools and administrators could be exposed to civil and criminal penalties.

According to state law, if a local health officer finds it necessary to protect the public health during an epidemic, they can issue emergency orders for prohibiting public gatherings and, “may establish procedures to be followed by persons, including a local governmental entity” to continue essential health services and enforce health laws.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.