The Community and COVID-19
For the past several weeks, some Olivet Community Schools (OCS) teachers and personnel have been wearing red for a cause called “Red for Ed.” The National Education Association’s website said, “#RedforEd is about funding for students and schools… Educators, parents, and communities are uniting for better school funding for our students.” The website also stated the mission is for educators to access, “a voice in shaping education policy. Salaries that allow educators to afford to stay in the profession they love, without having to work another job. Opportunities to learn and lead.”
A former Union Representative from OCS said, “tensions are high because teachers have literally reinvented the wheel since the beginning of the pandemic. We don’t feel valued. We’re losing staff left and right, mostly for better pay.”
Community Facebook pages have been actively voicing concern over the lack of contracts for educators at OCS for the 2021-2022 school year. The former representative said, “there seems to be no urgency to settle, despite [educators and personnel] being told we’re appreciated and to keep up the good work.”
Community members and OCS faculty and staff posted about attending board meetings in hopes of news on contract renewals. As of Friday, October 1, there have been no settled negotiations for a contract. OCS School Board Meeting minutes have not been uploaded to the Olivet Schools website since August 9.
On Friday, September 17, the Barry-Eaton District Health Department (BEDHD) issued an emergency order for mask requirements in educational institutions. This order from the BEDHD went into effect Wednesday, September 22 and required that all schools mandate the use of face masks.
The order mandated: 1. All Persons in Educational Settings, regardless of vaccination status, are required to consistently and properly wear a facial covering while inside any enclosed building or structure of an Educational Institution, vehicle of an Educational Institution, and/or off-site building or structure while participating in school-sponsored field trips or similar activities.
2. Educational Institutions shall ensure that all persons, regardless of vaccination status, consistently and properly wear a facial covering while inside any enclosed building or structure of the institution or vehicle of the institution, and/or off-site building or structure while participating in school-sponsored field trips or similar activities.”
Before the order was issued, OCS did not require the use of a face mask. On Monday, September 20, parents/guardians of OCS students received a letter from the superintendent, John Mertz, explaining the order and the school’s responsibility according to it. The letter stated, “As a result of this order, the district will be expecting all students to wear masks as required by the health department. If a student does not have a mask, then a mask will be provided for them. Students who are not wearing masks or not wearing a mask properly will be asked to put them on. If a student refuses to wear a mask, then the parent will be contacted and asked to pick up the student.”
‘Parents of Olivet,’ a prominent community Facebook group, became a place for community members to discuss the mandate. Some posted about respecting the order as set by the BEDHD while others posted about protesting the order from the BEDHD and the mandate from OCS.
On the morning of Wednesday, September 22, the day the emergency order went into effect, students and parents protested outside Olivet High School. Students had a group text chain with more than 100 students in it, where they planned the protest. The group chat was titled, ‘Flagpole 7:15.’ At 7:15 a.m., students and parents stood at the flagpole, in front of the school. Around 80-100 students were present, as well as around 20-30 parents. When the bell rang for students to go to class, the group of students walked in without masks. Students were told to report to their classes and parents remained outside the doors of the school, watching.
After classes began, the Olivet High School principal, Troy Waffle, was in the school lobby speaking with the first round of unmasked students sent to the office. In waves of about four to eight, students were sent to report to the school office. They were told they could put on a mask, or they would have to call their parents and sign themselves out for the day. Many students stayed in the school lobby, despite being asked to leave. The local police department was then called by the school.
Chief of Police, Shawn Garcia, arrived at the school and went inside to speak with Waffle. After a few minutes inside, he went outside the school to speak with parents.
When the bell rang for students to go to their next classes, parents remained outside, and students started to leave the school.
“We wanted to protest the masks because it’s not right that we have to. So, we all started out at the flag and then worked our way into the school and went to class like normal,” said Bo Lincoln, sophomore at Olivet High School. “Then, [school faculty and staff] came in and pulled like 50 percent of the kids out of class and basically were standing there yelling at everyone to, um, get their rides figured out.”
Lincoln, along with several other students, then went to the BEDHD in Charlotte, Michigan to continue protesting.
Students from Charlotte High School were already present at the protest in BEDHD when OCS students arrived. Around 100 people were present at the protest, several of which had signs. The group played loud music out of a car and gathered outside the building.
On September 30, BEDHD’s press release said, “The rescission of these orders is due to boilerplate language included in the Fiscal 2022 state budget that purports to restrict funding to local health departments with COVID-19 local emergency orders in effect as of October 1, 2021.”
As of Friday, October 1, students have been able to go to school without wearing a mask.
Photos by Olivia Velasquez