News Story

School Mask Agony: Two Public Education Systems, Two Policies, One Shared Building

It’s happening in Midland and illustrates parents' challenges

As Michigan public schools wrestle with classroom face mask policies for this fall, a complication in the Midland area illustrates one of the challenges. Some students spend time in a building where two separate entities hold classes: the regular public school district and the educational service agency that handles many of the area’s special education services. Each has adopted a different mask policy.

Parents of several students attending Midland County Educational Service Agency classes have been informed by letter their children will be required to wear masks. But some of the agency’s classes are held in a regular Midland school district high school building, and it does not impose a student mask mandate.

Caught in the middle are parents who may have to deal with two public education operations serving the same community and two very different masking regimes.

At an Aug. 17 board meeting of the Midland County ESA, some parents of special needs students expressed their frustration that the dueling requirements treat their children differently when mingling with general education students. They questioned whether the conflicting requirements violate the American With Disabilities Act.

Jeffrey Pitt, a toxicologist whose child attends agency classes, said, “It is surprising to me that ESA is singling out special needs students, identifying them as different from regular education students in the school setting, for a minimal improvement of health and safety when compared to other real daily risks, e.g., riding in a car. For most of us, our special needs children are not more sensitive to Covid than regular education students, and believing they are, and treating them differently, is discriminatory, wrong and should never occur.”

A subcommittee of the Midland ESA said it would consider the concerns, which members took up at an Aug. 18 meeting. Superintendent John M. Searles explained the final decision in an email:

“All ESA employees and students will be required to wear masks when around other people while in buildings owned by Midland County ESA. Students and staff members in general education classrooms or programs located in buildings not owned by MCESA will follow the masking protocols of the host building or district.”

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.