‘Return to normal’: Brandywine will not require vaccinations, face coverings unless mandated by local or state agency

NILES — As Berrien County students and teachers return to school next month, they can expect to do so without masks, so long as COVID-19 case numbers stay as they are now.

The Brandywine board of education was the first in Berrien County to hear the county’s Return to Learn plan, which is expected to be officially adopted by the Berrien County ISD on July 29. Superintendent Karen Weimer presented the plan to the board during a special meeting of the board of education Monday.

“Last year we kind of moved through, ‘what are we going to do if we have to close for remote learning?’” Weimer said. “This year the mantra is a little bit different — it’s ‘flexible mitigation.’ What things are we going to put into place if cases go up in the county?”

The Return to Learn plan was compiled by county superintendents, based on data and input from the Berrien County Health Department and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which Weimer said supported the plan.

All mitigation tactics are dependent on transmission rate of COVID-19. Like last year, there will be a color system. As cases go up in the county, colors change from yellow to orange to red. Each color phase has additional mitigation tactics in place.

“Our transmission rate is based on transmission cases in Berrien County,” Weimer said. “We’ve asked if there’s a way to break out the data so it’s specific to our zip code, 49120, and so they are checking into that, we haven’t heard a response. … But right now, the data is based on what’s in Berrien County.”

Weimer listed the following protocols, each dependent on transmission levels remaining where they are now — in the blue and yellow levels.

“Vaccinations are not going to be required by staff or students, unless of course mandated by the state or otherwise,” she said. “Testing of athletes will not be required unless mandated by the local or state agency or the sanctioning body, which is the MHSAA.”

Facial coverings will not be required unless mandated by a local or state agency and/or sanctioning body, or if transmission level requires them. COVID testing will not be required unless mandated by local or state agency and/or sanctioning body.

Weimer said a virtual option will continue to be available to students in sixth through 12th grades, as it has been for many years through the Brandywine Innovation Academy.

“For elementary students we’re not offering formal virtual instruction because quite honestly, we don’t believe that’s the best form of instruction,” Weimer said. “We haven’t heard of many people wanting to have that virtual instruction for their students, but if that happens, we can handle it on a case by case basis, and if we do have a large influx, then we can look at offering it like we did last year, but right now we’re not seeing the need there.”

Students will be able to share materials like scissors and crayons again.

“Assuming we start the year in blue or yellow, which is what we are right now, it will be fairly normal, but we’re not just saying, ‘OK we’re done. We’re not putting anything in place,’” Weimer said. “Plexiglass is still up in different areas. Hand sanitizing stations will still be there. We’ll space students out as far as we can. We’ll still have things in place, it’s not just everything’s taken away.”

The proposal was not required to be passed by the school board, but no push back was shared publicly.

If the plan is approved by the Berrien County ISD July 29, other districts in Berrien County, including Niles and Buchanan schools, are expected to follow suit.

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