By ARDEN BASTIA With the start of school just a few weeks away, Warwick parents are urging the School Committee and administrators to make facemasks for students a parental choice. The district policy, which has not changed since being adopted in the
With the start of school just a few weeks away, Warwick parents are urging the School Committee and administrators to make facemasks for students a parental choice.
The district policy, which has not changed since being adopted in the last academic year is for students and teachers to wear masks in school.
Tara Levasser, a parent of a second grader at Holliman Elementary shared her thoughts of the “unnecessary fear-pushing mandates” at Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting.
“The CDC did a study and found no significant reduction in flu transmission with the use of facemasks,” she said, citing a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study from May 2020.
“Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of the measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza,” according to the study, Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings, found on the CDC’s website.
“I agree with scientific facts, saying that there is no reduction in the virus transmission with the use of a facemask,” said Levasser, who shared that she has a degree in applied sciences and currently works as a dental hygienist. “But if a parent strongly believes their child is safer with one, that’s their choice. Every medical decision should be a parental choice.”
Levasser is one of more than 3,000 Rhode Island parents who are part of a group, Unmask Our Children; a local grassroots organization pushing for no mask mandates this upcoming school year. The group has peppered the state with blue and yellow signs, appearing on lawns and telephone poles, urging school administrators to reconsider the mask mandate. Cherie Waluk, a Portsmouth mom of three, started a petition after seeing her children struggle while wearing masks in school. Since the Unmask Our Children petition went live on Change.org in July, it’s received over 4,300 signatures from parents across the state.
Levasser said she’s against masks for her child because “masks create anxiety, fear, and sleep problems.”
Levasser wasn’t the only Warwick parent to share her thoughts at Tuesday’s meeting. Jen Goff, a parent to a third grader from Oakland Beach, said she too is advocating for parental choice.
“If parents want their child to wear a mask, then they can so do so, and if they don’t want their children to wear a mask, which is the way I and many other parents feel, then they don’t have to,” she said. “It has nothing to do with comfort, I don’t feel it’s best for him.”
Goff, who works as a high school teacher, said she’s “lucky to have a child with a healthy immune system,” and said she’s “much more comfortable with my family being exposed to any germ with an active immune system than after months and years of wearing a mask.”
Socialization and self-esteem issues were among the other reasons Goff was personally against masks.
“It’s not that I don’t believe he could get sick, I believe there are a number of things he could get sick from,” said Goff. “I don’t think masks are necessary for his development. No one but me should decide what’s best for my children.”
According to the Academy of American Pediatrics’ guidance for safe school reopening, “All students older than 2 years and all school staff should wear face masks at school (unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use.”
The AAP recommends universal masking because “a significant portion of the student population is not eligible for vaccination, there is lack of a system to monitor vaccine status among staff and students, and continued concern for variants that are more easily spread among children and adults.”
The AAP also adds that masking can prohibit other respiratory illnesses that would take time away from school, like colds and flu.
The Oaks family from Cowesett supports masking in schools for both students and teachers.
“My wife and I very much want our schools open, and we want our kids, my kids, safe in school,” said Dan Oaks during Tuesday’s meeting. Dan is the father of a first grader at Cedar Hill Elementary School. “We feel that masks for everybody is a really important part of that. I hope you put in place policies for this year that ensure masking, help us keep our kids safe.”
Justin Montoya, a teacher from Winman Middle School and another supporter of masks for students, asked the School Committee “to consider making masks a choice for teachers, because having taught in masks last school year for six hours a day, having to speak through a mask and manage a group of students is very difficult.”
Now that teachers have had the opportunity to get vaccinated, Montoya would like the see the mask policy become optional.
“We’re not against anyone who wants to wear a mask,” said Goff. “We’re against someone else making the choice for our children to wear a mask.”
Goff added, in a brief interview on Wednesday, that School Committee member David Testa has “been an advocate for the kids since day one, and there are many parents, myself included, who are grateful for his support.”
In a short interview on Wednesday, Assistant Superintendent William McCaffrey reiterated that the district policy is for students and teachers to wear masks in school.
He noted that the policy “may be revisited” at the special School Committee meeting on August 19, and all plans regarding reopening schools must be submitted to RIDE by August 27.
Levasser, among other parents, think administrators are “waiting until the last minute, because they don’t want to jump the gun. They know teachers and parents are out there who aren’t happy with a mask mandate,” she said.
To make their voices heard, parents are planning on gathering at Warwick Veterans Middle School on August 19 at 6 p.m. before the School Committee meeting to “stand up for our children and our rights as parents to make the best choice for our children,” wrote Henry Whitford in a post on the Parents for Better Warwick Schools Facebook page on Tuesday.
“My kids don’t need to be punished when 80 percent of eligible candidates for vaccination have done so in the state and the fatality rate for children is 0.00-0.03 percent,” he wrote.