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Parents Angrily Protest Continued School Mask Mandates

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Some of the more than 200 parents, children and other community members who turned out in Thornwood Saturday afternoon to demand that in-school mask mandates be removed, arguing that children are being shortchanged.

As COVID-19 cases continue their sharp descent, the pressure on state and education officials to drop mask mandates in schools continues to grow.

On Saturday afternoon more than 200 Mount Pleasant School district parents, community members and some children held a boisterous demonstration at the Four Corners in Thornwood, demanding that parents and local districts be allowed to make their own calls as to whether students should keep wearing masks in school.

The protest came three days after Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted the mask mandate for businesses but left them in place for schools and other congregate settings at least until the first week in March. It also was held as statewide infection rates on Thursday and Friday plummeted to 2.6 and 2.5 percent, respectively, according to the state’s COVID tracker, the lowest level since the first week in November.

Westchester County and the entire Mid-Hudson region each had a 2.6 percent reading on Friday and just over 3 percent on the seven-day rolling average, down from an early January high of more than 20 percent.

“I believe rules need to be followed but I also need to believe that at a given point that once we have information, we’re allowed to make a decision that’s best for us,” said parent Mario Prosperino. “I think that two years into this now, there’s been enough collected data that said that we can move on now.”

Prosperino stressed that those families that still want their children to wear masks should be free to choose what’s best for their children and be respected for that decision.

Some of the parents and Mount Pleasant teachers who participated in Saturday’s protest said there is irreparable harm being done to children, particularly the youngest students and those with learning disabilities or language or auditory challenges.

Parent Christina Fiasconaro, whose preschool-aged son has a disability, said her child has been unable to receive proper services the past two years because his friends and his therapist wear masks, making it more difficult to learn the language.

“He’s entering kindergarten next year at a severe disadvantage to other children who are typically abled,” Fiasconaro said. “His therapist and his peers still wear a mask. He is not able to understand the language as he should as his age.”

Hawthorne Elementary School reading specialist Karen Griffin, who works with children in grades K-2, said when trying to help students she sometimes can’t understand them and they have difficulty understanding her. As someone who believes in following the science, Griffin said that the past several weeks has shown that the data supports the removal of masks in schools.

“I just feel like we’re not getting the whole child out of them with these masks,” she said. “They’re more inclined not to speak and we’re not getting as much, I think, as we can out of them.”

During her briefing last Wednesday, Hochul said there will be testing when most districts return on Feb. 28, and an assessment will be done before the end of that week. She said there was “a strong possibility” the school mask mandate could end shortly after that if current trends continue.

Anger at state officials and to a lesser extent school officials have boiled over during recent school boards meetings in the area.  A virtual forum hosted jointly last Thursday evening by the Mount Pleasant and Valhalla school districts featured an assortment of harshly negative comments to elected officials.

One of those officials who participated in that forum, State Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers), chair of the Education Committee said she understands the frustration and has been pressing the governor’s office for objective standards to be established for the past two months.

“I believe the time has come for metrics to be openly shared that give guidance to districts and give guidance to parents,” Mayer said.

She added that there are many parents with children with special needs or who are immunocompromised who are not in a rush to have masks removed.

The area’s state senator, Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro), said he understands that it’s been a difficult two years but by exercising personal responsibility, which includes vaccines and mask-wearing when appropriate, schools and other portions of society could soon rid themselves of the mandates.

“So if we all take personal responsibility we can be beyond the mandates and hopefully soon we’ll be out of this and we can hopefully bring back some normalcy to the kids who have been so traumatized by this,” Harckham said.

Mount Pleasant Councilman Jerry Schulman, who attended Saturday’s rally and spent the last 23 years of his education career as a principal or assistant principal in Mount Pleasant until his 2015 retirement, said the data supports taking the masks off. He believes that will come shortly after the Presidents’ Week vacation break concludes.

“I think it’s time,” Schulman said. “Kids are falling way behind. It’s hurting kids, it’s hurting kids with special needs, the ESL, the English as Second Language kids, the parents that are trying to work.”

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