Michigan high schools forced to navigate patchwork COVID testing protocols

EAST LANSING, Michigan – For Matt Seidl, athletic director of Olivet High School and the boys’ basketball head coach, navigating the various COVID-19 procedures between local schools is quite difficult.

Olivet, who has a membership of 485, plays in the Greater Lansing Activities Conference. The school, located about 35 miles southwest of Michigan State University, is in neighboring Eaton-Barry County.

Unlike last season, school districts and the MHSAA are no longer receiving COVID-19 warrants from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Instead, high schools follow the guidelines of the county health departments.

“In our conference right now, we have three schools (Leslie, Stockbridge and Lansing Christian) that have a mask mandate, and that also includes the sporting events they host,” Seidl said. The other schools (Lakewood, Olivet and Perry) do not have a mask mandate.

With such a variety of COVID-19 safety measures (or lack thereof), high schools are forced to navigate a maze of conflicting expectations, guidelines and regulations.

“It was a little inconsistent, we would go to a school and wear a mask and play, and we would go to another school for volleyball and not wear a mask,” Seidl said. “This will be the way forward for basketball unless something changes.”

Current requirements

The mixed bag of expectations has led to some consternation among Michigan schools belonging to conferences spanning multiple counties.

“Parents and athletes are frustrated, I think, when they come from an area that has no restrictions and they have to go and participate,” Seidl said. “I have heard of schools at other conferences that have chosen not to attend certain events in places where masks are mandatory.”

Matt Seidl.

Olivet High School golfer Elle Sheppard is practicing her swing in the spring of 2021.

Seidl said this problem was particularly prevalent in Washtenaw County, which requires all schools to wear a cover mask.

The largest schools in Washtenaw County (Saline, Dexter, Chelsea, Ann Arbor, etc.) participate in the Southeast Conference; the league spans Monroe, Jackson and Lenawee counties.

Currently, Washtenaw County saw 73.8% of its residents receive at least one dose of Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Lenawee County, meanwhile, is currently at 53.5%.

County Monroe is even lower at 50.1%.

Problems in the North

For schools statewide, especially in the north, the decision to choose whether to follow certain protocols (or not) rests with member schools. There have been very few league-wide mandates, around mask wearing, rapid testing, and social distancing, for most of these little northern schools.

“At the moment, there is nothing wise about league politics,” said Jack Lindell, executive director of the North Star League. “Even the year before, there was nothing we said, ‘It’s our league policy.’ “

The North Star League is made up of several small schools around Oscoda County, including Mio, Posen, Oscoda, Rogers City, Hillman, Hale, Atlanta, Alcona, and Whittemore Prescott. All of them participate in 8-a-side football except Oscoda.

Oscoda, the largest high school in the conference, has 320 students. The league also extends into Alpena, Montmorency, Alcona, Arenac, Iosco and Ogemaw counties.


Matt Seidl.

Several Olivet volleyball players anxiously cheer their teammates on during a match in fall 2021.

“Even this year, whatever the state tells us to do, the schools are doing it,” Lindell said. “Otherwise, it’s basically left to the schools. Some schools still perform (rapid) tests and others do not. Some schools follow protocols regarding required masks. “

Since October 24, the state of Michigan has seen more than 68% of its residents receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Oscoda County, meanwhile, saw only 48.6% of residents aged 16 and over receive at least one dose of the vaccine.

Despite the status of the COVID-19 vaccine affecting roster decisions in professional sports leagues such as the NBA, a minor’s immunization status is not expected to be factored into decision-making on alignment across the state.

“I don’t think it will, but I was really worried about it this summer,” Seidl said.

Lindell agreed.

“This is a problem that maybe will arise, at this point it does not,” he said. “Right now it’s kind of like ‘do you have enough kids (most schools with less than 300 kids in total)? “

MHSAA’s future COVID-19 plans

The plan, going forward for the MHSAA, is to continue to rely on local county health departments.

“For us, intervening is not really our role,” said Geoff Kimmerly, MHSAA communications director. “We’re not doctors … so that we can eventually put something in place, it’s something that really belongs to health services.”

Kimmerly also said that the main guideline enforced by the MHSAA is that host schools can decide which protocols (if any) to apply and that all visiting schools must follow those protocols established by the host school.

About Rachel Gooch

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