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Why some private schools refuse to 'strongly recommend' masks this fall

Children and staff wear masks inside a classroom.
Laurel Chor for NPR
Children and staff wear masks inside a classroom.

With the start of the fall semester just a couple of weeks away, private schools in West Michigan are divided whether or not to recommend that parents send their kids back to class in a mask

Last week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for universal masking in schools; however stopped short of mandating it—rather, 'strongly recommending' that masks be worn by all students, teachers and staff—regardless of anyone’s vaccination status.

And while symbolic only in nature, some public districts like Grand Rapids Public Schools are standing in solidarity with the CDC—by echoing its sentiments—and strongly recommending that students and staff mask up when attending school this fall.

For private schools, it’s a little trickier, as issues like masks and the COVID-19 vaccine have become politicized, creating a fine line that some private schools now have to walk.

The message is a bit different—while the decision to send their kids to school in a mask is still left up to the parents, a number of private schools in West Michigan aren’t going to strongly recommend it either.

At the heart of it all is enrollment.

With a number of parents threatening private schools with pulling their kids out if the administration requires masks, some school officials say they have to be careful to remain neutral.

For some schools, like Grand Rapids Christian, officials have yet to decide what the message will be to parents when it comes to masks. One school official who requested not to be name told WGVU, things could really get ugly if the CDC changes the recommendation to a mandate this fall.

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