As if school leaders don’t have enough to worry about at the moment, now they’re left to contend with flimsy leadership from public health officials.

On the doorstep to a new school year, as our country and region face yet another surge in COVID-19 cases, statewide policymakers left local school leaders twisting in the wind when it comes to setting masking policies for the upcoming school year.

It’s dereliction of state leaders’ duty that places public health policy decisions in the hands of people who should be focusing on the challenges heaped into their wheelhouse during the past year. And there are plenty of challenges — a good starting point would be how to help our students regain academic ground after more than a year of upheaval.

That can kicking from top leaders in Michigan means schools in our state will open a new school year with a patchwork of mask policies that, in many cases, is shaped by community sentiment, not sound public health policy.

Let’s be frank, nobody really likes to wear a mask. Well, maybe a few horror movie characters, but nobody we know in real life.

But universal masking is a sound intervention to help curb the spread of airborne diseases, including COVID-19. We have all the evidence we need that it’s effective. Simply ask any parent of a school-aged child how many times their kid came down with a routine case of the sniffles, or strep throat, or the flu during last school year. The answer we have received and experienced ourselves: almost none compared to a typical pre-pandemic school year.

Or take a look at the tens of thousands of students now in quarantine in southern states like Mississippi, Florida and Georgia after many districts launched into a new school year without requiring masks.

Heck, even Michigan’s top health official, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, told reporters she believes requiring masks in schools will reduce transmission of COVID-19 and it’s more contagious Delta variant.

So why would state leaders risk sending our kids — many who don’t yet enjoy the option to receive a COVID-19 vaccine — into schools without the benefit of a statewide policy requiring masks in schools?

The answer: politics.

Long ago, elected officials and bureaucrats led us down a path cut by egos and political aspirations, not sound public health policy, science and altruistic leadership. They caved under pressure of opinions espoused by their loudest constituents. They set nonsensical public health policies (ban on motorized boating but not sailing) and often failed to adhere to their own rules (massive troop review gathering at Camp Grayling). Their missteps opened fertile ground for quackery and disinformation to fester.

Now, after creating a quagmire, they seem to have lost interest in making difficult or potentially unpopular decisions.

No, those decisions that likely will determine the trajectory of the ongoing virus surge in the coming weeks, have been shucked to local elected and hired leaders who lack expertise and face immense pressure from factions on the fringes of the political spectrum.

We now have witnessed several local districts, including Traverse City Area Public Schools, institute their own mask mandates for the upcoming school year — policies that likely will help keep doors open and students in seats.

There is a big difference between telling people what they want to hear, pandering to the loudest crowd, and actual leadership.

Now, we’re left to wonder what happened to the statewide policymakers who not long ago were so strident in their decision making.

We’re wondering where the leaders went.

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