Milford rally demands kids unmask

MILFORD — A group of about 30 adults and children rallied along Boston Post Road Tuesday evening, Aug. 3, demanding they be allowed to send children to school without masks.

The event, billed as the Unmask Our Kids Shoreline Rally, was organized by a group called Unmask Our Kids Connecticut, an organization made up of parents and residents demanding children to be out of masks. A statement on the official website reads, “We do not consent to our children being in masks or coerced into vaccination. We demand our kids be unmasked and given mask choice right now.”

One of the organizers, Terri Smith, said the goal of the group was to give parents the right to choose.

“It’s ultimately a medical decision,” she said. “So really, parents (should have) the freedom to choose for something health-related for our children. Not my child being discriminated against for not being vaccinated, for example.”

Smith said the risks of COVID-19 to children were small and outweighed by the potential risks of mask-wearing. According to the state, there have been four confirmed COVID-19 deaths among state residents under age 20.

“They just want to talk about COVID and masks, and the risk to children is almost nonexistent. I think we’ve had less than four deaths in Connecticut and they are all relating to underlying conditions not directly COVID like a healthy kid going to into a school getting COVID and dying, that doesn’t happen,” said Smith.

Jennifer Murphy, a parent at the rally, agreed.

“Many of us feel like a lot of the restrictions going on for our children, the mental risk to our children far outweighs the physical risk (of COVID-19),” she said. “It’s a choice. Some parents want to mask their kids and some parents do not. So when you look at the mental health risk and have a healthy child, and there’s things in place that are making them fearful of school, it is no longer a safe space for them.”

At Milford Public Schools, a decision has not been made yet regarding masks when students go back to school on Sept. 1.

“Administrators continue to receive information from the State Department of Education, the governor’s office and the Milford Health Department,” said school spokesperson Kathy Bonetti.

Smith said it would be up to each individual parent what to do if Milford schools mandate students wear masks in school this upcoming school year. The district does not plan to offer full remote learning as an option.

“It’s not like you need to do this or you need to do that, we are getting ideas from each other and respecting each other’s opinions,” she said. “Like someone might pull their child out, where I wouldn’t. Or someone might send their child in without a mask and have them sent home every day, while I might not do that.”

Smith said she knows many parents who plan to transfer their children to private schools.

“One of our private schools is closing enrollment because they are being overloaded from kids being pulled from the public school system,” she said. “That’s a huge problem we are seeing all over the state.”

Connecticut reported that nearly 80 percent of all new COVID-19 cases stem from the Delta variant on July 22. Gov. Ned Lamont’s position has been not to issue a new mask mandate in the state, but he has asked people to use common sense in wearing masks in public places.

Lamont said infection numbers have been creeping up in the last six weeks, but the state still has one of the lowest infection rates in the country.

“I think we’re going to give a lot of discretion to our mayors and first select people as well. Every town has sort of their own threshold for risk,” said Lamont.

Gina Salerno, a retired teacher, was one of the participants of the rally and said she had decided to retire because she didn’t agree with the school district’s response to COVID-19.

“I retired at the very beginning of this past school year in September because I absolutely refused to partake in this fiasco,” she said. “I’m an elementary school teacher, and there just no way that I would allow myself to even either be seen or to see my little children, preschool and kindergarten age, with masks on. I couldn’t do it. It made no sense to me, and I was done.”

Salerno added that she felt she needed to do what was right for her and her emotions.

“I think that the masks are fostering an environment of fear which is, I think, one of the biggest reasons we are all against it,” said Smith.