It was a packed house for Monday’s County Council meeting. A large majority of the seats were filled, and people were standing in the back of the meeting room. All this for the Crisis Co Ag Supplemental Workforce in School Grant.
At the December 6th meeting of the County Commissioners, they unanimously approved the County Health Department applying for the $110,000 grant to assist with COVID contact tracing and vaccinations in the 7 school districts in the county. At the December 13th meeting of the County Council the Health Department sought approval to apply for the same grant but while a motion was made for approval no one made the second so the motion died.
At the December 20th meeting of the County Commissioners a discussion with the need for the grant by the Health Department and what kind of “strings” were attached to the grant were discussed to try and clear up confusion.
During Monday’s County Council meeting, they opened with public input and there was plenty. In total 17 people spoke about the grant with many of them voicing opposition to the “strings” or CDC regulations, current or future that the county would be required to follow.
Commissioner Stan Klotz was the first one to speak and said, “You have an agenda item here in a few minutes that’s caused a lot of controversy in the county. I will tell you, based on new information that has come up, I have a problem. I voted yes on this when it come to the commissioners. I would make a comment and suggestion, I cannot support these new guidelines we’re now becoming aware of that says we must follow any and all future CDC guidelines. I have a problem with that. I have a problem with anybody telling Marshall County what we are going to do. How we are going to run this county from outside the county.” Klotz said he believes in county control or local control and doesn’t want to give away control to the CDC.
Next to speak were several school superintendents including Jim White from Bremen Public Schools. He gave accolades to the Marshall County Health Department for all their hard work and working with the schools weekly for almost 2 years with the pandemic. He said he has two elementary students who have lost parents and the pain and suffering they are going through is difficult. He asked for support for the grant.
Christopher Winchell, Superintendent of the John Glenn School Corporation said the Marshall County Health Department has helped the county schools tremendously. He said his students come from Marshall, St. Joseph and LaPorte Counties and a few from Starke County. He said the Marshall County Health Department Team has been the only consistent direction over the past two years. He asked the County Council to consider the grant to help the Health Department and schools.
Jeremy Riffle, Triton Superintendent also spoke and told the County Council the schools in the county are working extremely hard to preserve the scholar’s education and do what is in the best interest of their physical, social and emotional health through this pandemic. In the Triton school corporation, they have had 440 quarantine situations from close contact from just 49 positive cases sense August 11th. Only 8 of the close contacts have become positive cases. The superintendent said he, like so many, don’t like the government overreaching or the inconsistencies of the CDC. He said the County Health Department has shown common since and work to help the schools. He asked to help the County Health Department by seeking the grant funds.
Kay Orangias, a grandmother from Plymouth with two grandkids in St Michael school said, “I see children hiding behind masks. Children are afraid to take their masks down when they go out to eat because they have been programmed that they are going to get sick, they are going to die, or they are going to cause someone else to die. I believe for the mental health of our children that the parents need to make the decision to mask those children or not.”
Connie Nicholl from Plymouth lost a family member to COVID. She said to register and contact trace children is wrong and it reminds her of Hitler in Germany in the 30’s. Accepting this grant with conditions is scary.
Andria Chamberlin, a nurse from Argos said, “I do not believe in taking money from this grant. I think if you take it, we are on a slippery slope. Being a nurse, it (regulations) changes every single day. If we get this grant into our school system, I feel like our children will be discriminated against, they will be segregated. We know who wears a mask, who has gotten the jab. Are our children going to be segregated and isolated?” She continued, “I think we need to come together as a community and keep the big government out of it. I’m not going to let dirty money determine what is best for my children.”
County Health Department Administrator Faith Freed and Public Health Nurse Sandy Dunfee were next to speak. Faith said she wanted to clear up misconceptions that have been circulating around the community. The Health Department does not force anybody to test or vaccinate. She said we offer services.
At the end of March, the state will end contact tracing and send it back to the counties. Freed said her department is so stretched already. This grant will provide funds for 2 to 3 contractual employees to assist in working with the schools.
Dunfee said with this grant they offer COVID testing to students with parental consent, staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and administration the day of need. She said trying to find a test site can be a huge problem. If parents don’t want their child tested, they just do the quarantine. Dunfee said they offer ALL vaccines in the schools, again with parental consent.
Marshall County Health Officer Doctor Byron Holm said, “I’m sorry that our medical stuff has come into a political area. I wish COVID would have never fallen under that. I wish that they would have allowed medicine to do what we’ve done best. In 48 years of practice, I’ve never run across anything like this. I went through SARS. I went through H1N1. I’ve gone through a lot of stuff.” Holm said he doesn’t like control just like so many in the crowd.
Doc Holm said we are in a crisis situation with hospitals being full and deferring elective cases. He said this grant will help support the schools by offering testing and vaccines of all types along with contact tracing as a way to keep children in the classrooms.
The motion was made by Jon VanVactor to approve the grant and seconded by Jim Masterson. The vote was 5 no votes and 2 yes votes so the Health Department won’t be able to apply for the $110,000 Crisis Co Ag Supplemental Workforce in School Grant.