“Instead of a warm smile, I’m greeted with 'you got a mask?' or 'fix your mask' or 'sanitize your hands,” said Alexios Selearis, a 5th grader from Hamden.
Selearis is one of the eight students who spoke at the Connecticut State Capitol on Wednesday about the statewide mask mandate in schools. Governor Ned Lamont has proposed extending the mandate until February 28 and then leaving the decision up to the individual school districts. It first has to be voted on by the Senate and House over the next week.
Students told powerful stories and talked about what it is like going from being labeled a good student to a bad kid because of not wearing their mask properly.
“I had my mask under my nose because it was uncomfortable to breathe. Then all of a sudden, one of the teachers passed by. She then stopped, turned back around, approached me and said that is deadly. She then proceeded to pull up my mask for me. It felt so invasive to have someone just go and touch my face. She made me feel like I'm some public menace. Why are we supposed to bear the burden of somebody else’s fear,” said Selearis.
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The stories continued as another student said she had a medical exemption not to wear a mask in school that meets the state requirements and still the school forced her to go fully remote.
Other students talked about the toll masks and quarantining are taking on their social and emotional wellbeing.
Students said that instead of collaborating together or participating in class, these mandates have pushed them further into isolation.
“I don't really think it's a mask issue. I don't think it's like who's vaccinated and who's not. I think, it's a suicide rates are going up, depression rates are going up. So I think that you know, if you want healthy kids, I think we all want healthy kids. It is a really big issue,” said Ellen Kappes, a high school senior from West Hartford.
Teachers also spoke. “We know that our youth, thank God, are the least vulnerable and yet they’re the ones who have been forced for two years to carry the heaviest burdens of our COVID response. They’re the ones we continue to treat as if they themselves are the virus,” said Michael Costanza, a teacher.
A large group of parents also gathered at the Capitol Wednesday morning for an ‘Unmask Our Kids’ rally.
The Department of Public Health Commissioner said that while COVID-19 cases are falling, she is advising masks stay on for the remainder of February. Meantime DPH will work to develop guidance for schools to follow.