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Norwalk BoE urged to drop mask mandate

Rowayton Elementary School students and staff wear blue to support fellow student and friend Jayden on International Angelman Syndrome Awareness Day. (Norwalk Public Schools.)

NORWALK, Conn. — A storm of public speakers at Tuesday’s Norwalk Board of Education meeting, most arguing against continuing the mask mandate in the schools, relayed multiple stories about the effects the pandemic is having on Norwalk’s youngest residents.

“Wearing a mask every day and having these intense protocols for our children have now ingrained in them that there is danger out there even while they are sitting and learning to read with their teacher or trying to talk to a friend,” Lauren Jordan said. “We are teaching them that they are never safe and that this danger is invisible and that they are responsible for this danger.”

The public outcry was followed by Norwalk epidemiologist Brian Weeks explaining that the Omicron variant “has had pretty decent impact in terms of hospitalizations for pediatric patients” and the long-term effects of COVID-19 are unknown. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children has increased with Omicron and “a large proportion” of the Norwalkers who have gotten sick in the last few weeks are children.

The State legislature has given school districts the option to decide whether students should continue to wear masks in schools.

“We are going to be engaging in conversations with the Department of Health and working in collaboration with the City to make recommendations to the Board to determine when it when it’s an appropriate time for us to transition out of masks,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella said, after about more than an hour and a half of public comments.

NPS is conducting a survey, asking families how they feel about the issue, a Wednesday email said.

About 30 people spoke against continuing the mask mandate Tuesday, four of them children. Some adults read statements they said were from teachers.

Kerry Rice said she’s an NPS speech language pathologist (SLP) and has seen what two years of mask wearing has done to children.

“There has been a significant increase in speech/sound disorders in 5- and 6-year-olds,” she said.

Lauren Davis said she routinely cringes when she sees her 5-year-old daughter’s cloth mask after seven hours of kindergarten. “It’s covered with dirt, and food and who knows what else and was wet with saliva and I would have to assume germs… can you honestly sit here in good conscience and say that this this dirty piece of fabric is protecting anyone? Of course not. We’re all smarter than that.”

Every student, teacher and administrator should have access to high quality masks and there are other solutions, she said. After awarding mask autonomy, the Board could distributing high quality masks, incorporate more outdoor time and outdoor classroom resources into the curriculum, and teach kids about healthy living.

She said, “As more and more studies come out showing the detrimental impacts masks are having on our developing youth, young people will look back and wonder how we allow this to go on for so long, long after it was clear that the costs were outweighing the benefits.”

Amanda Trimboli said, “My daughter will be in second grade next year. She officially has never been in elementary school without wearing a mask. My son will be in kindergarten next year he’ll be learning how to read and I have no clue what struggles he may face if he is still masked and trying to figure out sounds and phonics.”

And if you think masks are beneficial because children aren’t getting sick as often as they used to, “My children have been sick at least six or seven times from the start of September right up until Christmas break and not from COVID, she said. “I cannot help think it’s because they are breathing in their own bacteria all day. And because they aren’t being exposed to common germs that their immune systems need in order to get stronger so they can fight off viruses and illnesses later in life. That is the real science.”

One teen said, “Due to the COVID pandemic I had lost my entire freshman year. As a sophomore now, the leftover trauma caused from the past from the pandemic has made me feel less of a student than before. I was always told high school would be the best years of my life. However, that is most certainly not the case.”

She said, “My cousin in second grade came up to me and told me he’s never seen his teachers or friends smile before to hear this from someone so young had truly broken my heart.”

Emily Glod said she’s been a social worker for 18 years and over the past two years she’s stood beside both her own children and her clients as” they have experienced trauma after trauma” and “loss after tragic loss.”

“Masks have helped to reduce the spread of the virus,” she said. “I do believe this, however, we now have science that strongly supports other methods of reducing the spread that are more effective.”

Her 9-year-old son is very bright but has gone back into therapy, saying, “COVID has been extremely difficult for him,” according to Glod.

A Wolfpit Elementary School second grader said, “I really want these masks off because it’s a struggle to learn, especially different language kids.”

Kyle Baker said his son was “perpetually sick last year, even with the changes of masks in his backpack. He wasn’t always aware to change his masks promptly on time as soon as they got wet. He’s only 7 years old.”

The boy “developed asthma for the first time in his life within a month of being back to school in fall 2020, due to all the elements his mask was causing,” Baker continued. “Not only this, he caught covid anyway from a classmate regardless of wearing his mask as directed.”

His younger child cried on the school bus on the way home and was afraid to take off his mask as “it filled completely to the point where he couldn’t get any oxygen through it and he had trouble breathing. Once he came off the bus we had to call 911,” Baker said.

“The only thing these masks are doing is teaching children that fresh air is toxic, and people around them are always sick,” Brendan Herlihy said. “That is a mental illness. Suicides in school aged children are up over 100% with many surviving family members citing isolation and loneliness as the reason why.”

One woman read a statement from someone she said has been a teacher for 20 years.

“Students who are multilingual learners and are already self-conscious often mumble with a mask or choose to hide behind the mask rather than to enunciate,” the teacher said. “… It’s not uncommon for the child to give up sharing because no one can hear them.”

At least three people spoke another point of view.

“I ask you today to not only consider science when deciding when to unmask at our schools, but also consider the legalities of unmasking prematurely,” Sharon Baanante said.

Weeks presented a COVID-19 update, then was questioned by the Board.

An Omicron subvariant, BA.2, is 1.5 times as infectious as Omicron, he said. Omicron itself is responsible for most infections but BA.2 is at about 4%. As of Feb. 5, Norwalk’s transmission rate decreased to a new case rate of 29.8 per 100,000 residents and a percent positivity of 8.9%. The 5- to 11-year-old age group is “still only at about 32.12% for fully vaccinated.”

He was asked to speak about masks.

“The way to look at this is as spectrum of protection,” Weeks said, explaining the efficacy of cloth masks and working his way up to N95 surgical masks, which not only filter 95% of particles but also have electrostatic conductivity that attracts a virus and keeps it on the outside of the mask.

But the mask is not only to protect the wearer, “It’s also most effective when somebody’s wearing it when they are infected with the virus, so they don’t run the risk of transmitting it to others,” he said. “That’s where it’s actually most important.”

The impact on the pediatric population is still being studied “but it actually has accelerated the development, say, certain chronic diseases like diabetes in the pediatric patients,” Weeks said. Some people test positive for weeks or even months, “and therefore if your body’s still responding to it, an immune response, it could actually still render impacts long term, such as your nervous system damage, cardiovascular system damage that has been seen, and even pediatric population, too. So it’s something else to factor in our decision making. Nobody wants to get sick.”

20 comments

Sue Haynie February 17, 2022 at 6:13 am

Go parents; they’re protecting and defending their kids. NPS kids are still wearing masks because of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers. Move the unmovable.

Sharon February 17, 2022 at 7:44 am

We need to get back to living.There will continue to be variants, just like thee are many different strans of flu. The swine flu is still around,and many other viruses. People die from all of these all the time. My niece has become so paranoid that she tests her husband and child as well as herself several times a week. They don’t go to things, we can’t go to their house unless you have aa negative test. Children especially need to be able to run and play,get dirty, be with other kids. Teach them to wash their hands. Cough in your elbow. M mother taught us and I have taught my children when you come home from being anywhere wash your hands. So now we teach wash your hands or sanitize more often. Both my daughters live in apt type dorms in college. Thankfully they have not been seriously ill. I was happy to hear that they each told me how dry their hands were. I knew then that they were washing their hands a lot. So now they need to hydrate their bodies more. Using anti bacteria soap all the time can cause problems. This has been told by the scientists way before Covid. It’s like the overuse of antibiotics, becomes less effective over time. WE need to go back to common sense again.

David February 17, 2022 at 7:54 am

I think a good Compromise on masks would be tying their requirement to the positivity rate. Over, say 5% and masks are required, under 5% and they are not. A requirement would be to be fully vaccinated, of course (I hope the families asking for No masks at least agree with this point)

I appreciate the opinions of families with children struggling in schools, but the problem is that those of us who are diligent in our mask wearing, at all times, get vaccinated and boosted are bearing the brunt of the social responsibility to see the end of COVID.

Tying the mask requirement to a community driven number will make us all stakeholders in this.

DryAsABone February 17, 2022 at 8:08 am

Stop washing your hands while you are at it!
Americans lack something…determination?
No jabs. No masks. No remote schooling. It is all sooooo hard and infringes on the rights of some to infect others.
Seems as though a million dead is a meaningless number to those who want to
politicize the pandemic.

Piberman February 17, 2022 at 10:51 am

Parents concerned about the mask mandate.

But when it comes to demanding major improvement in our failing public school system that fails to meet CT Edu standards where is the public outcry of anguished parents ? Or from our elected officials ?

In Norwalk “ignorance seems bliss”. Sadly. If our BOE and Council love kids as much as the rest of us why aren’t they demanding much better management of our obviously failing public school system ? If our elected Democrats won’t publicly acknowledge we have a major public school competence problem how will it ever be resolved ?

Admiral February 17, 2022 at 1:05 pm

Norwalk will be the only town around making our children wear masks. The BOE loves having this kind of control. This will make middle and upper-class Norwalk families move to New Canaan, Darien, etc., or pay for their kids to go to private schools.
Congrats BOE, Rilling, and Duff..you have succeeded in making Norwalk a “herd mentality,” stripping people of their personal freedoms.

DryAsABone February 17, 2022 at 4:05 pm

All you zealots better go all in!
No Polio Vax
No MMR vax
No Tetanus vax
No HPV vax
Also…no birth control of any kind. No condoms.
If we are lucky we can kill an entire generation, or more, in the name of freedom!
A million dead Americans is just a start.

Andrew Anello February 17, 2022 at 8:45 pm

This is an outrage!

How dare anyone suggest for a moment that we risk even one child’s life by removing the mask mandate. I urge the Norwalk Board of Education to continue the mask mandate for all children indefinitely.

In addition, I demand that all Norwalk Public Schools employees including teachers, administrators, janitors, building maintenance and grounds keepers wear Level A HazMat Suits which will cover these high-risk adults from head to toe with puncture resistant material and prevent them from infecting our most precious cargo…our children. These suits must be worn during all working hours with no exceptions for lunch or bathroom breaks. If astronauts can figure out how to deal with these matters in zero gravity, the employees of Norwalk Public Schools can certainly develop solutions considering they’ll have the advantage of gravity.

This is the only solution to maximize child safety. If the consequences of a mask and HazMat suit mandate result in the reduction in academic performance, increase in mental illness of children and staff and a mass exodus of families and businesses leaving Norwalk for neighboring locations that promote freedom over safety, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

James February 18, 2022 at 1:06 am

Well done adults, look what everyone has done, ok nobody expected COVID, but I for one am not the least bit surprised that there have been many detrimental consequences to the globalized way we were living. And what have we learned? What behavior will we change to avoid this from happening again? NONE. It’s everybody’s fault except the children. As restrictions are lifted, let’s go back to the normal that got us here, so we can do it again. It’s not the BOE’s fault.. They did not invite the virus. It’s everybody’s greedy, ignorant way of life, everlasting dependence on China that keeps our children vulnerable. Lauren Jordan, the kids should know that they are never safe and the danger is in fact invisible, because what came from Wuhan was invisible and will continue to be unless adults wake up and actually make some changes to prevent this from happening again.

CT-Patriot February 18, 2022 at 4:04 am

If masks worked, why didn’t they stop AIDS?

There have been studies on the detrimental effects of mask wearing on children and it’s way past time to end this ridiculous mandate.

It’s time for children to be children and give them back their freedom.

Masks are nothing more than a method of control.

Admiral February 18, 2022 at 10:31 am

“Welcome to Norwalk. The last town in America to be masked, and the last town in America to build a mall.”

Norwalk will forever be known as being on the wrong side of history.

Sid Welker February 18, 2022 at 1:30 pm

Its been awhile for me since my last comment on here. I’m concerned about the future of our youth and the example these parents are setting for their children with all these “unmask our kids signs” popping up all over town and reading that parents don’t understand the difference between generation we vs generation me. If we just all did our part in the beginning maybe we wouldn’t be in this position today. This country is going to hell in a hand basket and its because we’ve become a soft country. We’re afraid to speak up against this kind of nonsense. Leaders of cities and our country over the past 10 years need to put their foot down and say “this is how it is”. I hurts me to say this but I think America has been spoiled and we’ve taken advantage of our freedoms. Is it time to pull back the reigns a bit to let the people know that freedom is given and can be taken away? Use it wisely and use it kindly. We are in the middle(maybe the tail end) of a pandemic that 100 years ago if you told those people in the midst of the Spanish Flu that within 1 year they found a vaccine I guarantee you 100,000 of 100,000 people would have taken it because back then it was about family, faith,survival and patriotism. Today I’m ashamed to say we are divided in two, clouded by politics, conspiracy, social media and self pride. Gone are the days of love thy neighbor. Gone are the days of united we stand, here today are divided we fall.

CT-Patriot February 18, 2022 at 5:23 pm

The response to “AIDS” was posted as a ridiculous effect of masks in general.

AIDS is obviously not airborne.

It was to point out the foolishness of using a mask, paper or cloth to stop a virus. Just as stupid.

It’s time to let kids be kids.

John C. Miller, Jr. February 18, 2022 at 6:29 pm

@Sid Welker: While I don’t disagree everything in your comment, you statement that freedom is given and can be taken away does not comport with the provisions of the US Constitution. Below is a link to The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution. You might want to check it out. We might not want to happen here what Trudeau is doing in Canada.

https://www.annenbergclassroom.org/constitution/

Alex Kemeny February 20, 2022 at 9:22 am

Please check out the research on the effectiveness of masks from the study done by John Hopkins. It’s hidden data , that’s available but not for some reason media has not made it public.

CT-Patriot February 20, 2022 at 12:43 pm

CT.V

My posting on “AIDS” was a sarcastic post on the effectiveness of mask vs a virus.

Guess no one got it…😁

Not so Non Partisan February 20, 2022 at 5:51 pm

Masks

Let’s learn from others who didn’t politicize COVID

Great Britain has not had masks in schools the entire pandemic

Outcomes? Not very different from NE USA

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