SOUTHINGTON – A roundtable discussion in Cheshire with Gov. Ned Lamont, Rep. Liz Linehan and Cheshire officials Wednesday was abruptly ended when members of Parent’s Choice and Unmask CT came to protest mask mandates.
Susan Zabohonski, one of the founders of the Parent’s Choice Group, which includes Southington residents, said about 20 people from their group and others from the Unmask CT Group came to the event to express their frustrations to Lamont and officials.
“The news tried to say that it was a meeting with parents, students, the governor and a roundtable of experts, but parents were not invited,” she said. “We found out that it was happening through a third party and mobilized. Parents have been calling the governor and our local legislators for months and not getting any response.”
According to Zabohonski, the parents came and listened and had been respectful “except for a couple blips here and there.”
“They got through almost the entire panel until the end when a woman shouted out a question about why children still had to wear masks if they were sitting six feet apart,” she said. “She asked why they were still implementing quarantine procedures if masks really work.”
Linehan, who represents Southington, Cheshire and Wallingford, said the roundtable was going well until one or two people began to shout from the audience.
“From there, it escalated until elected officials and government officials could not be heard,” Linehan said.
Zabohonski said parents then became “heated” since they “weren’t getting answers.”
“They’re trying to vilify parents who just want to have their voices heard,” she said. “Some people did reach a high level of frustration. The one who was swearing and yelling obscenities was not with our group. Do we think that was the best approach? No, but out group can’t contain what people do when they are upset and enraged from not being heard.”
The roundtable discussion was ended early and Lamont and Linehan made for the exit, with Lamont’s security team escorting him. Members of the audience followed after them, with some trying to engage verbally with the elected officials and some surrounding the officials and shouting at them.
“They were extremely aggressive, all of them,” Linehan said. “They followed the governor out. I saw a man run quickly and aggressively toward the governor. The governor’s security detail blocked him and allowed the governor to get into the car.”
Zabohonski accused Lamont of “pushing by a woman with her baby” to get to his car, which she said enraged the woman’s husband. A video sent by Zabohonski shows Lamont surrounded, and the governor holding out his hands and slowly moving forward toward his car. He appears to touch the woman as he makes his way, but he does not appear to push her in the footage.
Lamont could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“The mom was just expressing her concerns that she doesn’t agree with mandates being forced upon us,” Zabohonski said. “Because of that, we will see more and more parents rising up.”
Zabohonski said Linehan was shouting at some of the parents. Linehan claims she remained calm and that images circulating on social media of her yelling at them are “photo shopped.”
Zabohonski said Linehan caught flak because “she voted to remove the religious exemption and force vaccines on children against parents’ will.”
“She stood in unison with Black Lives Matter when protesters were destroying cities, but she tries to vilify parents who are just seeking answers as ‘disruptors,’” Zabohonski said.
Linehan said she had intended to unveil a mask collection drive with RW Hine Ace Hardware, the Cheshire Community Food Pantry and the Kubicza family drive at the roundtable. Lamont was planning to make the first donation.
Linehan instead launched the drive Thursday. She said she intends to “use lemons to make lemonade.”
“As we return to school this fall, it is imperative that we keep every child in our community safe,” said Linehan, who is chair of the Children’s Committee. “I hope this mask drive will allow all students to feel safe and supported as they go back to school. Back to school clothes and supplies can be costly and I also want to ensure that no parent feels any financial burden due to this important state mandate.”
Zabohonski said the goal of Parent’s Choice is to get local Boards of Education to put pressure on the Department of Public Health and state officials to put choices “back into the hands of parents.”
“They are labeling us as anti-vax and anti-maskers when we’re really just pro-freedom,” she said. “Boards of education are being strong-armed and told that if they don’t follow mandates they could be held liable. We want to live in a country based on freedom, not socialism and communism. If you want that, go live in China.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.