At 10 a.m. on Sept 10, a small group of Wantagh School District parents gathered outside Wantagh High School to protest the district’s mask mandate for students.
The 20 or so people who took part in the demonstration walked on the sidewalk outside of the high school, middle school and the administration building, some holding signs that read “Unmask Our Kids,” “No Masks, No Vacs, Back to School” and “Freedom to Choose.”
“I think everybody here is in agreement that we want the right to choose,” said Alan Jacoby, who has advocated against masks at school board meetings. “No one is against wearing masks — if that’s your choice, that’s fine for your child. And it’s our choice not to mask our kids.”
The Wantagh protest took place on a nationwide walkout day, when students, parents and teachers across the country left school buildings at the same time to show their opposition to mask mandates. Jacoby said the protest was organized by parents in the community and promoted on social media.
District students were invited to take part, but Superintendent John McNamara wrote in an emailed statement that none did so, and that school security monitored the protesters until they disbanded. There were also members of the Nassau County Police Department on school grounds.
“This was not a student organized event, and no students unlawfully left the building to participate,” McNamara wrote.
On her first day in office last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul directed the state Department of Health to institute a universal mask requirement in all public and private schools. The mandate followed shortly afterward.
In response, Jacoby, 42, removed his fourth-grade daughter from the classroom, to be home-schooled this year. “We don’t want to co-parent with the government or the school,” he said. “That’s pretty much the bottom line, and unfortunately it’s going to get worse.”
“Worse” for many parents would be a vaccine mandate the Health Department might issue. If vaccines were to be mandated for students, protester Rebecca Conti said, she would consider pulling her twins from their middle school classrooms to be home-schooled. “I think it’s going to happen sooner than we think,” Conti said.
“Once those vaccine mandates hit, I think you’re going to see a mass exodus of kids being withdrawn from schools,” Jacoby said. “I can’t speak for every parent, but I know many parents feel this way.”
Conti, of Wantagh, said she wants her kids to be unmasked. “I don’t believe in it,” she said. “I don’t believe in the science behind it, and I don’t think it’s doing anything to protect them. I believe in parents’ choice. If you want to mask your child, you’re more than welcome to, but I don’t want to.”
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, laboratory and clinical studies have shown that masks are effective in preventing the spread of Covid-19. An April 2020 report by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated that mask wearing reduces transmission of infected droplets, and, in turn, “decreased transmissibility could substantially reduce the death toll and economic impact while the cost of the intervention is low.”
Christina Haubeil, who attended the protest, said she had her 15-year-old son vaccinated in June, as soon as he was eligible. She thought that would mean he wouldn’t have to wear a mask in the fall. “He’s fully vaccinated, so I don’t see what the problem is,” she said. “It should be the parent’s choice. . . . And as soon as the kids leave the building, most of them are unmasked, so what’s the point?”
Hochul is also considering mandating vaccines for school employees, or requiring those who are not vaccinated to be tested weekly for Covid-19.
Last week, in the neighboring Massapequa school district, anti-mask outcries led to the Board of Education’s approval of the filing of a lawsuit to challenge the mask mandate. The Locust Valley School District is a party to the suit.
McNamara said in a statement that the district has not considered taking similar action, and “any decision to take legal action regarding the New York State mask mandate would be discussed and voted on by our Board of Education at a public meeting.”