‘Do We Have Rights?’ Anti-School-Mask-Mandate Parents Gather  

by | Aug 10, 2021

For Tracey Gritz, who has a child at Eldredge Elementary, the past school year was “very, very difficult.” That’s why she decided to attend the meeting Monday night at the Greenwich Hotel organized by parents who want school districts to allow choice when it comes to wearing masks come September. 

Gritz’s child had a medical mask exemption but, she said, he was coerced into wearing one. Because of the exemption, he got extra “mask breaks” but that meant he missed out on some lessons. He had more anxiety and headaches and found it harder to breathe and concentrate, said Gritz, as well as fearing being yelled at. 

Kim from Coventry (she declined to give her last name), was there because a friend invited her. “I’m just concerned about the continued use of masks in the schools,” she said. Masks are “certainly unhealthy” – she was worried about all the bacteria she said must build up in the masks after several hours –  and “definitely unnecessary” – because the rate of COVID-19 is low in Rhode Island now. Regarding the Delta variant, “I don’t think it warrants us taking such drastic measures when cases are so low,” she said.

Cases in Rhode Island are rising, with more than 250 new COVID cases Aug. 5, up from 13 cases July 5. That’s far from the 1,500+ daily cases seen in last December and January but the the rate of infection is “high” – 136 new cases for every 100,000 people. That’s because the Delta variant is nearly twice as contagious as the original variant. (Find the RIDOH data HERE.)

Around 80 to 90 people were in attendance Monday, including some children. In addition to East Greenwich residents, people were there from Warwick, Coventry, and North Kingstown. EG parent Lisa Pomeroy welcomed everyone and said one of the purposes of the event was to connect with people but also to understand what parents could do, including the mechanics of how to make a public statement at a School Committee meeting. 

Last year, former Gov. Gina Raimondo issued a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools (and just about every other indoor space), but this year Gov. Dan McKee is stopping short of that,  “strongly recommending” universal K-12 masking, but leaving the ultimate decision up to individual school districts. The EG School Committee will be discussing its COVID-19 policies at its meeting Tuesday (8/10).

Maddalena Cirignotta, from South Kingstown, and Cherie Waluk, from Portsmouth – who have become leaders in their communities regarding parent-choice on masking – also spoke. Cirignotta recommended that people attend their local School Committee meetings and speak, suggesting that personal anecdotes go over best. She encouraged speakers to make eye contact with the School Committee and to be polite but to come armed with data. 

Waluk brought more fire to the meeting, prompting cheers a couple of times, in particular when she said, “Do we have rights or do we not? This starts with masks. It doesn’t end with masks.” Still, Waluk said, the current effort was focused on masks exclusively. 

EG resident Brian Turner also spoke, telling people not to be afraid to bring forward their stories. 

Turner mentioned he saw EG School Committee member Tim Munoz in the crowd and Munoz ended up speaking Monday as well. He told the maskless crowd he was wearing a mask because he’d been in a meeting with someone who ended up testing positive for COVID-19 last week. He’d recently tested negative but was a bit “spooked.” 

In an interview after the meeting, Munoz said he encouraged those from EG in attendance to come to School Committee meetings and speak their mind. He said he emphasized that no decision had been made and probably wouldn’t be made at the meeting Tuesday since they have until the end of the month to send their recommendation to the state Department of Education. Munoz said he fielded questions from the attendees for around 20 minutes and that  things got a little heated when one man seated at the bar kept yelling at him while Munoz said he was trying to hear from an older woman who had been speaking. But, he said, he was glad he attended.

The School Committee will discuss a revised COVID-19 policy – including how to handle masks – at its meeting Tuesday (8/10). Find the agenda HERE.

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30 Comments

  1. Jennifer

    I have quite the different take on Munoz… I sat front row last night. I and every parent in that room CLEARLY heard Munoz tell a parent to ‘put a sock in it.’ Unimpressed with an elected official speaking to a parent in that manor regardless of what transpired. The parent raised his voice because he was upset… not sure when that meant a response from an elected official should be to ‘put a sock in it.’ Quite demeaning…

    Reply
  2. Jennifer

    Also… no one was anti-mask, please headline your story properly. Txs!

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      If you look at the graph below that chart (which provides cumulative, not weekly, data), you can see that the vast majority of new cases in recent weeks are Delta (B.1.617.2).

      Reply
      • Julie

        No the graph below is by week. And only goes through July.

        Reply
        • Brian

          Yup, the graph titled “Number of SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern and Variants of Interest by Week” with color-segmented vertical bars is in fact by week. For the four most recent bars, label Jul 3 to Jul 24, the largest segments by far are colored orange, meaning the Delta variant. Your claim that Delta “only makes up 2% of Covid samples right now” is not substantiated by this bar graph, because “right now” in August is not shown, as you said. But I think you would agree, Julie, that it is very unlikely that Delta would suddenly go from being 90+% of weekly sequenced cases to being 2% in two weeks. Wait two weeks for the data to come out and you’ll see if you are right. Your 2% calculation probably comes from the table at the top of the page ( 84 / 3,987 = 2.1% ). The table doesn’t explicitly say what time period the numbers cover, but Elizabeth is no doubt correct that it is cumulative over a period longer much longer than one day (Aug 4) or the week leading up to Aug 4. How do I substantiate that statement? If you click the button at the bottom of the page under “Click the button below for public RIDOH COVID-19 Data” you will see that the 3-day average of positive tests as if Aug 10 is 173 positive tests per day. Let’s assume that rate has been steady for the last week. So 173 x 7 = 1211 positive Covid tests for the last week. Even if 100% of these weekly cases were gene-sequenced to determine the variant, that is a smaller number than the 3,987 “Total Specimens Sequenced Successfully” cited in the table at the top. Therefore it is safe to say that the table of variant distribution is not for a day, a week, or August to date. I believe the number of cases that are gene-sequenced is a small fraction of all positive Covid tests, and if that is true then the math says the table’s data covers many months.

          Reply
  3. Maddalena

    The original reason for forcing children to wear a mask was to protect the vulnerable adults. Those vulnerable adults have options now such as wearing a mask themselves or getting a vaccine or avoiding high risk situations. Forcibly masking children was initially presented as a temporary solution for an emergency situation. The emergency is now over. Thus the right to breathe with unobstructed airways must be restored to our children who have virtually no risk of serious complications from Covid.

    Reply
    • JS

      “The emergency is now over”.
      Is that right? The children’s hospitals in Florida that are being overwhelmed with pediatric COVID cases due to the Delta variant and the surge there will be so relieved to know that.
      I know people will say, yes but Rhode Island isn’t seeing the surge that Florida is. Exactly, let’s keep it that way, mask up.

      Reply
      • Kate

        The kids here have been playing together all summer long with no masks and we still haven’t seen the surge so your argument doesn’t really stand.

        Reply
      • Kate

        The kids have been playing together all summer with no mask and we still aren’t seeing the surge FL is so your argument doesn’t stand.

        Reply
        • JS

          7-day average new cases on July 1st = 15
          7-day average new cases on August 10th = 223, highest since May 3rd.
          That’s a 15-fold increase in a little over a month, are you sure we aren’t on the same path? Now is the time to do what we can to keep it at bay, and make sure we don’t become like some other hot zones – every single place that has seen a massive surge, at one time, said, “Yeah but we aren’t seeing it here like that.” Nope, not yet we aren’t. But when you do see it, it’s already too late.
          I don’t want to wear a mask, I don’t want kids to have to wear a mask. But right now it is one of the better defenses we have to protect a population that largely is not old enough to be vaccinated, and at the same help prevent further variants from emerging.

          Reply
        • Jenny

          Playing together is significantly different that sticking 30 unvaccinated kids I a room for the better part of 6 hrs.

          Reply
          • Kate

            Maybe so but sleepovers and sleep away camps aren’t.

            Sweden has 1.8 million children did none of these mandates and 0 children died from covid.

          • Brian

            According to this data, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1107913/number-of-coronavirus-deaths-in-sweden-by-age-groups/, in Sweden 9 kids under age 9 have died from Covid-19 and 6 kids age 10-19. That doesn’t count cases of pediatric long Covid or cases where a child was part of a transmission chain that led to serious illness or death. The ethics question is, how many deaths and other negative outcomes are acceptable vs the costs of trying to prevent them? Are we willing to say that one child death in EG would ok if kids (with exceptions) don’t have to wear masks in school? The problem is that it’s not perfectly predictable at the scale of our town. We could all mask and be vaccinated and a child could still die, or we could not mask and no kid would die. But the risk levels to you and others are demonstrably different, just like speeding vs going the speed limit.

  4. Phil

    I think people absolutely have rights. Do they have the right to put young children at risk by not having their children wear a mask? Their children are not the only ones in the school. School districts have the right to require masks in schools. The parents have the right to keep their children out of school and home school them.

    Reply
  5. KarenLu LaPolice

    The willful ignorance in America these days is astounding. You’re lucky you have a public school system that cares about their students and their employees. You’re lucky you have available science, so make use of it and stop taking it for granted. Even in 1918 when my father was born they knew the value of masks. And don’t give me any guff about individual rights. Mask up for the greater good and stop being so selfish. Children are much more adaptable than you’re giving them credit for and you DO NOT want to see them on a ventilator.

    Reply
    • Melissa

      Agreed. I am a teacher. Not once has a child complained about the mask. The complaint comes in when a teacher has to do virtual and in person.

      By not masking more children will be infected and more virtual learning will have to be done. This is the most disruptive part of teaching, not the masks. Trying to get attention from a virtual learner having a meltdown disrupts the class. By the time you have the virtual learners attention you have lost the class.

      Reply
    • Kate

      0 children have died from Covid in RI. Let’s stick to facts not fear.

      Reply
      • KarenLu LaPolice

        Greater good, Kate. Always do what is needed for the greater good of all. It’s a very small request to wear a mask.

        Reply
  6. Chris

    I’m here in support of choice. We have a daughter that fainted after mask use as she already has a lower oxygen concentration. She was forced into wearing a mask, fainted and split her head open with a fractured skull that ultimately caused a cerebral fluid leak. We have tried to tell her story publicly, only to be belittled and ridiculed. Wear there is risk, there must be choice. Those that are fearful should remain double or triple masked abs or vaccinated, they have every right to do so. Those who are fainting, ending up with bacterial lung infections, migraines, eye sty, conjunctivitis, raw facial rashes, boils, etc. should refrain if that is their choice.

    Reply
    • Chris

      I apologize for the spelling mistakes, I typed that at 7am and clearly was not fully awake.

      Reply
  7. Mallory

    Fifteen percent of new cases in the US are pediatric now. That’s not specific to RI, but we should do everything to keep it that way. Those with exemptions as mentioned above should not have to wear masks, but it is for the good of everyone in the community, state, country to do everything we can to keep others safe. I’m vaccinated and wearing masks in stores and other venues to keep your children and others safe. It is not a lot to ask.

    Reply
  8. Joe

    Their whole argument falls apart with the single fact that right now 5-9 is the age range with the second highest incidence of covid. I wish we could unmask everyone too, I wish people would get vaccinated so this would be over. In May, I would’ve agreed with these parents, but delta is here and this pandemic isn’t over. They bring misleading, cherry picked data and Karen energy,

    Reply
  9. Carisa

    Did anyone listen to Governor Dan McKee talk yesterday? He said we are the 4th best state with vaccinations rates and the 47th state with COVID deaths….Even our Governor has decided to not pass a state mandate for kids to wear masks in school. Why? GASP! Does he want kids to die?!
    Last night, after the school board meeting, I looked up all the states that do not have STATE mandates for children to wear masks. There are 33. How can this be? We are supposedly 4th in the nation for vaccines, almost dead last for deaths, yet all those other states – with lower vaccination rates and more deaths – are NOT mandating masks for children. These states are all composed of elected officials, with the same ‘science and data’ that is being passed around, yet 33 states are saying, “Nope, we are not going to make a state mandate to wear masks in school.”
    As the Delta variant “rages on” (by the way- are we sending all RI samples out to Genome Sequencing labs all of a sudden because that’s the only way you can tell the difference?!), it’s pretty coincidental that Delta is now putting kids in the hospitals just as the big pharma companies are about to rollout vaccines for 5-12 year-olds. If we said kids don’t have to wear masks, then no one would get the vaccine.
    If we mask kids this year, it will NEVER.EVER.STOP. Next year, there will be a new strain of something contagious and Whelp, let’s mask the kids because “they’re used to it”. In two years, there will be some other illness going around and instead of letting our bodies build up immunity – MASK UP.
    There will now be a class of kids who were kindergartners last year, 1st grade this year, who will NEVER HAVE ATTENDED SCHOOL WITHOUT A MASK!!! What are we doing to these kids?!

    Reply
  10. Melissa

    I am a teacher. I have underlying conditions. I have taken the vaccine; however; we know I can still catch covid. Until this delta variant is gone I believe masks should be mandatory. If you look at the US the red is coming up the coast. Once things go back down then maybe no masks

    Reply
    • Kate

      The Delta variant is more contagious yes but less deadly. We should want people to get this variant to build up herd immunity especially children who covid posed a negligible risk to anyway.

      Reply
  11. Michael

    Words of wisdom from Arnold Schwarzenegger:

    “I think people should know there is a virus here, it kills people. And the only way we prevent it is we get vaccinated, we wear masks, we do social distancing, washing your hands all of the time, and not just to think about, ‘Well, my freedom is being kind of disturbed here.’ No, screw your freedom. Because with freedom comes obligations and responsibilities. You cannot just say, ‘I have the right to do x, y, and z,’ when you affect other people. That is when it gets serious. It’s like, no different than a traffic light. They put the traffic light in the intersection so someone doesn’t kill someone else by accident. You cannot say, ‘No one is going to tell me that I’m going to stop here, I’m going to go right through it.’ Yeah, then you kill someone else. It is the same thing with the virus. You cannot go and not put the mask on because when you breathe you can infect someone else, and you can infect someone that then gets sick and may die. So this is why I think we all have to work together on this.… We have to come together rather than fighting and always just saying, ‘According to my principles this is a free country and I have the freedom to wear no mask.’ Yeah, you have the freedom to wear no mask, but you know something? You’re a schmuck for not wearing a mask.”

    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/08/arnold-schwarzenegger-vaccines-masks-youre-a-schmuck

    Reply
  12. Andrew

    Many notions of the Enlightenment were rooted in the concept that no single human being has any more or less right to their personal self-determination than any other. By extension, another important notion to come from that period of philosophical evolution is the idea of a “social contract”, which simply stated holds that the well being of the society in general is no less important than any individual. We wear masks to protect us, but more so because science offers evidence that our society is strengthened and protected by our collective sacrifice. That sacrifice is a critical piece of the American ethos, and should be reinforced in all age groups.

    It’s really that simple. We should all wear masks because we are all better off if we do.

    Reply
  13. CR

    Johnston Public Schools voted for masks to be a parental decision for this coming school year. Vote was unanimous among the school board and had minimal pushback from parents. Hmmm….Thousands of people in a town just north of us must just be cold-hearted, schmucks….

    Reply

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