Parents and citizens began actively advocating on behalf of Ottawa County students and schools in the fall of 2020, with the onset of the Ottawa County Health Department’s aggressive legal enforcement with Libertas Christian school, its parents, and the church which housed Libertas.
On October 27, 2020, Doug Van Essen, Corporation Counsel for Ottawa County, enthusiastically shared the Commissioners had earned the praise of the offices of Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel for their handling of Libertas Christian School, being aware of their “political constituency” and the “characteristics and the nature of the Ottawa county community”.
The convictions of their “political constituency” were expressed in the Ottawa Declaration, written by Representative Meerman, and signed by Senator Victory, Commissioner Kyle Terpstra, local elected officials, and community members in February of 2021.
Around that time, parents also began joining County Commissioners’ meetings via zoom to voice concerns regarding the increase of suicide risks to students due to Health Department measures of quarantines, contact tracing, testing, and masks.
On May 25, 2021, at the County Commissioners’ meeting, over 30 citizens and parents, in person and via zoom, clearly outlined the effects of Covid-19 measures on students, and requested the Ottawa County Commissioners sign the Resolution to End Enforcement of Covid-19 Orders and Restore Constitutional Freedoms to Ottawa County (also referred to as the Resolution to Restore Freedom). The Resolution outlined the historical context of the Covid-19 orders imposed on residents, the findings in Ottawa County related to Covid-19 one year later, and steps to be taken to restore freedom to our county. Joining the signatures of Senator Victory and Representative Luke Meerman, Commissioner Kyle Terpstra signed the Resolution to Restore Freedom, the only County Commissioner who has signed the Resolution to date.
Rather than sign the Resolution, or take the steps outlined in the Resolution to restore and protect the freedoms being violated in Ottawa County, Commissioner Bergman, Chair of the Ottawa County Commissioners, wrote Governor Whitmer requesting the governor provide clarification “that county commissioners cannot control local health departments regarding the mask mandate…” and play only a “limited role” in managing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ottawa County parents and citizens continued to consistently advocate on behalf of Ottawa County students, for Constitutional freedoms and parental rights, speaking to the County Commissioners with a presence of up to 20 citizens at every meeting twice a month since May of 2021. Throughout the summer of 2021, parents educated the County Commissioners on the data compiled regarding children and Covid-19 over the past year (to include zero deaths of children ages 0-19 in Ottawa County), and the devastating educational, developmental, and mental health impacts of Covid-19 measures on children which have occurred. Health Department leaders were often present, and when absent, the public was assured they were listening to the parent and student feedback given during public comments.
On July 27, 2021, the County Commissioners approved a proposed Policy on Resolutions, which would prohibit the Ottawa County Commissioners from taking up a resolution on issues where it does not have authority. This policy was seemingly in response to citizens’ requests for resolutions on health freedom issues, which ironically, the Commissioners do have authority over. County Commissioners are responsible by statute for the hire— and thus have the ability to fire, the Health Department Director (as exemplified by communications in Jackson County, MI). In addition, County Commissioners are responsible for funding the local health department and overseeing the entire county.
As the 2020/2021 school year approached, despite mounting data proving risks to children from Covid-19 are minuscule and mitigation measures are faulty, local public and private school leaders began showing signs they would comply with any new recommendations and orders from the Ottawa County Health Department.
On August 17, 2021, Representative Luke Meerman, Representative Brad Slagh, and Senator Roger Victory wrote a letter to Lisa Stefanovsky of the Ottawa County Health Department, urging her to resist issuing “any mandates” forcing students to wear masks or be quarantined in the upcoming school year. They further stated,
“the role of any government agency should be minimized to the greatest extend, in exchange for allowing families to make the best decisions for their school-aged children.”
On August 20, 2021, as school districts and the County were ignoring the advocacy of parents, nearly 300 parents and children gathered at the Ottawa County Health Department for a Health Freedom Rally. On the same day, the health departments of Ottawa and Kent County ordered children in grades Pre K-6 to wear masks in school, triggering parents across the county to reach out to the County Commissioners for help.
On August 22, 2021, in response to the local mandates, Ottawa Impact Education PAC launched a petition to unmask our kids, which had nearly 6,700 signatures at the time this article was released.
On August 24, 2021, by which time 1,000 parents showed up to the County Commissioner’s meeting to advocate for their children, the County Commissioners had been thoroughly informed— over a period of MONTHS, of the importance of the Constitutional parental right to make health decisions for our own children. The Commissioners had every opportunity to step in and advocate for the children of Ottawa County in the months leading up to the health department’s order on August 20, 2021, requiring masks of Pre K-6 grade students.
On August 24, 2021, instead of allowing for public comments BEFORE making further decisions on the Ottawa County Health Department— instead of firing the Health Department Director responsible for the order, or firing the County Corporation’s attorney advising them all— in the presence of 1,000 parents, the Ottawa County Commissioners chose to pass over $2 million in funding for the Health Department, allowing for the continuance of the enforcement of Covid-19 measures on our children and community. (The County has no shortage of money due to the $57 million it has received in Covid funds.)
On August 26, 2021, the Ottawa Republican Party passed a Resolution to recognize that the current Covid situation does NOT represent “imminent danger” to the health or lives of elementary students, which concludes with:
“Resolved, the Ottawa County Republican Party calls upon the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners to overrule, by whatever means appropriate and lawful, the draconian “mask mandate” declaration instituted by the Administrative Health Officer of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health on August 20, 2021.”
Indeed, the Ottawa County Commissioners voted on May 25, 2021, not to extend the Emergency Declaration due to the Covid-19 virus, and have not reinstated it since that time.
As of September 12, 2021, two weeks have passed since 1,000 parents showed up to the County Commissioner’s meeting. Our children are facing rigid mask enforcement at school—even the material of masks is under scrutiny, and little to no relief for religious or medical exemptions, despite those needs being CLEARLY communicated at the Commissioner’s meeting. Many children have been removed from school to homeschool.
The position of the Republican Party is clear. The position of THE PEOPLE is clear. The track record of INACTION from the Republican-led County Commissioners on behalf of protecting the freedoms of THE PEOPLE and the children of Ottawa County is abysmal, and stands in opposition to the oath they took to uphold the Constitution when they took office.
We thank the County Commissioners for their service in ordinary times. These are not ordinary times. Ottawa County, it is time for leadership with the COURAGE to ACT.
“All it takes for the triumph of evil is good men to do nothing.”
Please join us in the effort to hold these leaders accountable and protect individual freedoms. Together, we can restore Constitutional protections and governance to Ottawa County.