By Jon King & Mike Kruzman /

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners is reconsidering accepting COVID response funds for the health department, but with added restrictions that at least one local education leader says will limit their options to effectively deal with the pandemic and keep kids in school.

Last month, Commissioners deadlocked 4-4 on a resolution to accept $1.5-million from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to the Livingston County Health Department for COVID response. Without 5 votes, the funding would not be accepted.

Many residents had earlier grown vocal, believing the money had “too many strings attached” to it from the state. At their most recent meeting, those thoughts were again represented, but so too were many from voices wishing the Board would reconsider.

According to a resolution drafted by Commissioner Mitchell Zajac on the agenda for the County’s General Government and Health and Human Services Committee meeting coming up Tuesday, they appear to have reconsidered but have also added their own restrictions to how the money may be used, including that none of the funds can be used to institute a county-wide mask mandate. Such mandates have become a hot-button topic for local school boards and health departments after MDHHS declined to issue a statewide mandate as was in place last year, leaving a patchwork quilt of regulations in which every county that surrounds Livingston County – Ingham, Genesee, Oakland and Washtenaw – have some form of mask mandate for schools, while Livingston does not.

The state COVID funding was already limited to being used on immunizations, infection prevention, testing, contact tracing and enforcement. In addition to a ban on a mask mandate, the new resolution also adds restrictions that declare the funds can’t be spent to vaccinate minors without the express written consent of a parent or guardian nor institute a county-wide vaccine mandate.

The resolution further states that the Board “does not condone the government overreach by the State of Michigan that was perpetrated over the last 18 months under the guise of public health,” and “will not condone or allow” it locally, “to the fullest extent possible.” While the MDHHS may propose future amendments for how the funding can be spent, the resolution states that Livingston County will retain complete discretion, and may determine not to use funding or to terminate funding if “certain strings are or become attached to said use.” The General Government Committee will make a recommendation to the full Board on the resolution at Tuesday’s meeting.

However, LESA Superintendent Mike Hubert says he is concerned about such restrictions being put into place, telling WHMI that he believes “it is incumbent on all of us as leaders in our community to find common positions that will increase the likelihood for students to participate in effective in-person instruction. The establishment of ultimatums with the extent of unknowns brought on by this pandemic contributes little in that regard. In my opinion circumstances may warrant the implementation of mask requirements, at times, and I would not want our options limited when it comes to making those decisions our state leaders have cowardly avoided.”

The effort to prevent any mandated masking of students comes as several local districts are dealing with outbreaks and student quarantines. In Howell, multiple screenshots and emails forwarded to WHMI by parents in the district indicate multiple classrooms, including 7 at Southwest Elementary, are currently quarantined, affecting at least 182 students. In addition, an email from Superintendent Erin MacGrgeor sent out Thursday indicates that there are multiple cases at Parker that are “linked and meet the definition of a school outbreak.”

According to the HPS COVID reporting website, there are 46 confirmed cases in the district dating back to the start of school on August 19th. However, the district does not report quarantine numbers. On the other hand, Hartland Consolidated Schools does, and as of Wednesday was showing 346 students in quarantine and 23 confirmed cases. Pinckney and Fowlerville schools only started this week, while Brighton won’t begin classes until next week.