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Portage Schools Face Anger Over Masks

John McNeill

Students and staff in the Portage Public Schools will be masking up when classes start next month. That's after a mandate issued by Kalamazoo County's health department to help limit the spread of the "Delta" variant of COVID-19.

But some parents are angry about the decision. At a Portage School Board meeting on Monday, August 23, they criticized the county, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and threatened to recall board members.

One woman told trustees, "Who am I going to sue when my son dies in that classroom because he has been suffocated by a mask?" Another said, "I will encourage every single one of these parents to pull their children from Portage Public Schools" to loud cheers.

Despite interruptions by the crowd, trustees Keith Crowell and Rusty Rathburn defended the decision to mask up, saying they've had personal experiences with the virus. Crowell said, "I had a direct family member who died," while Rathburn added, "I really don't want our health system to become overwhelmed like it was this past winter."

Portage Elementary Education Director Kelly Jensenius says the district is trying to do what’s best for kids and their families.

"We are working to keep our students and staff safe and in the learning environment as much as we possibly can. We know we want our kids in school. We want them learning. We want them with us."

The decision by district administrators to follow the county's mask mandate does not require approval by the school board.

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