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Anti-Mask Protesters Disrupt Back-To-School Roundtable

Signs at the state capitol where protesters gathered to speak against a bill that would remove the religious exemption from childhood vaccination requirements on April 27, 2021. 
Tyler Russell/Connecticut Public
Connecticut Public
Signs at the state capitol where protesters gathered to speak against a bill that would remove the religious exemption from childhood vaccination requirements on April 27, 2021.

Gov. Ned Lamont and other state officials abruptly left a back-to-school roundtable on Wednesday after anti-mask protesters disrupted the speakers, cutting short the dialogue among school administrators, coaches and state officials.

With students set to begin their second school year amid a global pandemic, Lamont hosted the panel at Highland Elementary School in Cheshire. Panelists included Charlene Russell-Tucker, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Education; Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health; Kate Dias, president of Connecticut Education Association; Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents; and superintendents from Waterbury and Cheshire public schools.

Panelists talked about the rules for vaccination and testing for staff and students, the mitigation strategies in place in the hopes that athletes have a safe and successful season and where people can get vaccinated if they still haven’t gotten their shots.

All the panelists wore masks. Anti-mask protesters began to heckle them near the end of the program, telling them to “speak up” because they said they couldn’t hear them. They asked Lamont “when we started living in Nazi Germany” before screaming at him as he left the school.

“This is a reflection of how we can’t have a civil dialogue,” Jeff Solan, the superintendent of Cheshire Public Schools and the panel’s emcee, said shortly before ending the discussion.

After the discussion, Rabinowitz said that while protesters have the right to show up at public events and board meetings, she wishes they wouldn’t do so in a way that also disrupts what others are trying to say.

“We were talking about social-emotional development, we’re talking about stability,” she said. “They have a perfect right to spread their thinking, but I just think it should be done in a way that is respectful of everybody.”

Rabinowitz added that she hasn’t heard any concerns from superintendents yet about the possibility of them showing up to schools.

“I think they are tending to come to board meetings or public meetings, where they can really register their discontent,” she said. “But I have not heard concern that they will show up at schools.”

“Both the academic and education communities know that masks in schools, especially for children who are unable to be vaccinated, help mitigate the effects of COVID-19,” Max Reiss, the governor’s spokesperson, said after Lamont was escorted from the school while protesters shouted at him. “These kinds of bullying tactics will not change the way we keep our kids safe.”

Reiss said it will be up to individual schools and districts to decide how to respond to vocal parents who do not want children wearing masks.

“We know there is a minority pocket of parents who believe that they’re right, but the science disagrees with them,” said Reiss.

Copyright 2021 Connecticut Public Radio

Kelan Lyons and Adria Watson // CTMirror.org
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