Watervliet High School

WATERVLIET — After more than two hours of discussion Thursday night, the Watervliet school board voted to mandate masks in specific school buildings – only after a positive COVID-19 case is detected.

During the special meeting, school board members went back and forth between preventative and reactive measures before deciding to update the district’s return-to-learn plan.

If a positive case is detected, masking would be required for two weeks – and only while Berrien County is in the red, or high, COVID-19 transmission level.

The school board plans to revisit the decision during its next regular meeting on Sept. 13.

Board members, along with Superintendent Ric Seager, expressed their disappointment in the Berrien County Health Department and state health officials in having the local school districts make masking decisions.

“It’s a punt to us,” Seager said. “We asked for more control. As this played out over the last few weeks, we’ve gotten what we asked for.”

On Wednesday, Berrien County superintendents met with Berrien County health officials in which they strongly recommended districts require masks, Seager said.

Several Watervliet school board members voted against the final motion, favoring a motion that was not passed to require masks across the district while the county is in red.

Bill Spaulding, president of the school board, was in favor of the reactive measure, saying the district should be focused on what’s happening in Watervliet specifically and not what is happening in other parts of the county.

“I think there is very compelling evidence that using masks is an effective mitigation tool,” he said. “But we need a metric that we can act on and it puts it out there clearly to the student body. I think it provides an incentive for folks to take their own protocols and measures. I think it’s an opportunity to teach.”

Board member Eric Laws said the district should be more proactive and not wait until cases pop up.

Others argued the student that triggers a mask requirement will be singled out, and with the internet, everyone will know who they are.

Seager reported last school year the district quarantined 807 students, and 81 of those were actual COVID-19 cases.

The district’s return-to-learn plan approved earlier this week only strongly recommended masks for students. School board members agreed they needed to make the language stronger in the plan and that’s why a special meeting was held Thursday night.

The district’s first day of school is Monday.

Seager said earlier this week teachers plan to mask while Berrien County is in high transmission regardless of requirements for students.

The updated plan will soon be available on the district’s website, www.watervlietps.org.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPA Newman