Portsmouth mom behind Unmask our Children petition wants parents to have a choice

PORSTMOUTH, R.I. (WLNE) – A growing petition is calling for Rhode Island officials to change its mask recommendations for students returning to school in the fall.

The nearly 3,000 parents who support the petition called #UnmaskOurStudents says they want to be able to make that call themselves.

Cherie Waluk is a Portsmouth mom of three who started the petition after seeing her children struggle while wearing masks in school.

“Masks and social distancing, it’s a one size fits all solution, but every child is different,” Cherie Waluk said. “My youngest son was not able to attend school. He physically can’t tolerate a mask, he can’t walk with it. He’s got some sensory issues, so to put something on his face, he just absolutely can’t.”

All three of her kids are under the age of 12 and are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. Waluk says they’ve gotten infections from the masks and her 4th grader comes home complaining about headaches. Her 4-year-old is currently in private school because he can’t tolerate masks.

“He’s been struggling with that,” Waluk said. “He was not even able to go to in-person services. He does speech, P.T., O.T. He wasn’t able to go in person to school for an entire year. This is a kid with delays, it’s really sad. I feel like he fell behind, so I’m holding him back a year.”

According to the Department of Education, districts can require that unvaccinated students wear masks when returning to school in the fall. There are some exceptions, but Waluk and the thousands of other parents who signed the petition say they should have the choice.

“It’s Rhode Island parents; people who are saying enough!” Waluk said. “Let us decide. These are our children, so let us decide how we protect them and keep them healthy and safe.”

Waluk says she knows not everyone agrees with her, but hopes parents can respect she’s fighting for what she thinks is best for her children.

“More than ever, we just want everyone to feel safe,” Waluk said. “I don’t disregard anybody at all who have lost people. I understand. I’ve lost three immediate family members, so if anybody gets that it’s me.”

ABC 6 News reached out to the Department of Education for comment on the petition. They sent us a copy of the guidance for masks in school in the fall.

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Rhode Island