Flint, MI—About  200 people rallied outside the Genesee County Administration Building in downtown Flint to protest the mask mandate put in place by the Genesee County Health Department for K-6 schools.

The Genesee County Republican Party, who organized the event, held a rally on the top floor of the building’s parking garage where Genesee County residents shared how their personal experiences had led them to believe children should not be expected to wear masks in school.

Yvette Landry, 38, of Mount Morris and her sixth grade daughter listen to speakers at a protest held at the Genesee County Administration Building on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, after the Genesee County Health Department declared a mask mandate for schools K-6. “They are requiring that she wear a mask while her older brother that’s in seventh grade doesnt have to. So she’s kind of upset that she has to start middle school with a mask on her face.” Landry said. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)
School children and their parents walk up to join a crowd of protesters on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. About two hundred people gathered at the Genesee County Administration Building in downtown Flint to protest the mask mandate put in place by the Genesee County Health Department for K-6 schools. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

One of the speakers was Grand Blanc School Board member, Amy Facchinelo, who during her time on stage urged listeners to “stand up” to the decision made by the GCHD. Facchinello said the mandate takes parental rights taken away. 

“When I ran for school board, I promised that I would run on protecting parental rights. … I don’t care if I’m the only person sitting up there on that board with the view to protect your parental rights. … We all have to reach in our hearts and pull out that courage to do what’s right,” Facchinello said. 

Similar speeches from other Genesee County residents drew cheers from the crowd.

After the rally ended, the crowd split in half. Some attendees took to demonstrating down Saginaw street, brandishing signs with messages like “unmask my children” and “I will not co-parent with the government.”

Protesters line the sidewalk of Saginaw Street in downtown Flint on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, to protest the mask mandate put in place by the Genesee County Health Department for K-6 schools. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

The other half of the crowd went inside to attend a Genesee County Board of Commissioners meeting and provide public comment. Of the 30 or so speakers, only one was from Flint, while the rest came from surrounding cities like Grand Blanc, Clio, Linden, Atlas Township and Fenton.

Some speakers compared anti-maskers to Jewish people in Nazi-occupied Ukraine while others threatened mass unenrollment in order to deny school boards proper federal funding. Despite such comments the two main concerns identified by speakers were mask efficacy and children’s mental health.

The majority of speakers, many of whom were both parents and opposed to the mask mandate, said their apprehension came from a place of doubt.

On Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, about two hundred people gathered at the Genesee County Administration Building in downtown Flint to protest the mask mandate put in place by the Genesee County Health Department for K-6 schools, half of which attended the Genesee County Board of Commissioners public comment session inside. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)
Protesters peer in the at-capacity Genesee County Board of Comissioners public comment session on Aug. 18, 2021. About two hundred people gathered at the Genesee County Administration Building in downtown Flint to protest the mask mandate put in place by the Genesee County Health Department for K-6 schools. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

One speaker, Jason William, a Flint resident with three children in the Kearsley School District, said he didn’t understand the reasoning behind the cutoff at sixth grade since some buildings in the county do not separate elementary and middle schools. 

“My daughter is being forced to wear a mask in the same school that her older sister does not have to wear one in. She asks how it’s fair that she has to wear one and her older sister doesn’t,” William said. 

William also echoed the same sentiment as other parents who said wearing masks scared their children, kept them from socializing in school and, in some cases, drove them to suicidal thoughts. 

“Your government funding depends on us sending children to your schools. You’re doing nothing but strike fear into our children and forcing them to wear these masks. My children have parents, and you are not them,” said William to the board of commissioners as the room was filled with screams of agreement and support.

Thirty or so people took to the microphone, most of whom passionately spoke about why they believe masking has negative effects on children during a Genesee County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. People gathered at the Genesee County Administration Building in downtown Flint to protest the mask mandate put in place by the Genesee County Health Department for K-6 schools, about half of which attended the board of commissioners public comment session inside. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Though no studies have come to a solid conclusion on how masks in school affect a child’s emotional health, some experts argue social cues like tone of voice, context, body language, eye contact naturally help fill in gaps during conversation in social settings. Not being able to specifically see someone’s mouth, they say, will not hinder a child’s cognitive or social development.

As for doubts about mask efficacy, health organizations and hospitals across the world, such as the Mayo Clinic have long been explaining how masks, even those made out of cloth, help to trap respiratory droplets carrying diseases like COVID-19 that would otherwise be free to roam in the air and possibly land on others. 

As of print date, The Genesee County Health Department has not budged on the mask mandate and soon, K-6 students in Genesee County will be required to wear masks while in school.

Santiago Ochoa

Santiago Ochoa is Flint Beat's Latinx Community reporter. He is always looking to write about anything Flint or Latinx. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications...