Unmask students rally draws more than 1,000

Unmask students rally draws more than 1,000

The front lawn of the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge was a sea of signs and flags Friday, Feb. 11.

Hundreds of parents took their children out of school to protest the face mask mandate remaining in New York state for school districts after Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) lifted the mandate for public places Feb. 10.

About 1,000 local protesters joined others across New York in cities such as Buffalo, Syracuse, White Plains and more for a statewide sit-out. An online flyer promoting the event encouraged parents to “empower your kids to go to school without a mask and refuse to wear a mask from Feb. 7-Feb. 10.”

During the Hauppauge protest, parents and children held signs that read “Unmask our kids,” “Free the children,” “No masks. We can’t breathe,” and “No one has seen my smile since kindergarten … that was two years ago. Let me smile.” Drivers passing the rally on Route 347, including sanitation men and a postal worker, honked their horns to show solidarity with the protesters.

Adrianne Stanton, of East Northport, said she brought her children, who are in first grade and pre-K, to the rally along with her nieces. All of them held signs that they made themselves.

“We want our children to have a normal childhood, to be able to go to school and to have the memories that we did growing up,” the mother said. “ And, to fight for, as parents, to be able to choose what is best for our kids.”

Casey Austin, of Northport, said one of her daughters told her students aren’t even able to drink water when they’re thirsty and have to wait for water breaks. 

“I have five little ones that have been living in this pandemic for the last two years of their lives, and it’s got to change now,” she said. “Three of them suffer from learning delays and speech impediments because they are not allowed to even articulate their words correctly. And it’s time for everyone to wake up and stand up and fight for them — and be done with this.”

Douglas Cerrato, of Kings Park, attended the rally and was one of the speakers. He recently declared his intention to run for the board of education in the Kings Park school district. In a phone interview after the rally, Cerrato said while it has been difficult for his kids to wear the masks, he has found the teachers in Park View Elementary, where his children attend, to be fantastic with working with the students.

Cerrato said it’s important to give parents a choice, adding while more people have been speaking up at school board meetings, some have still been hesitant. The rally was encouraging to Cerrato, who stressed he’s not anti-mask but for choice.

“I think you have a lot of people that were on the fence about being vocal becoming vocal,” he said.