Members of the Locust Valley Central School District Board of Education are considering sending an open letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul — and potentially, members of the State Legislature — arguing against vaccination mandates in state school districts. Districts including Oyster Bay-East Norwich and Massapequa sent letters to Hochul in December protesting recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department of Health that children ages 5 to 18 be vaccinated for Covid-19.
Since the creation of the first Covid vaccine, debate about their safety, as well as the necessity and legality of the government requiring people to take them, has raged across the country. Nine New York Republicans in the House of Representatives who are pushing for Hochul to end vaccine mandates for medical workers sent their own open letter to her on Jan. 20.
Nowhere has the issue been more hotly debated than in schools, where many Board of Education meetings have dissolved into shouting matches. Now, following the CDC’s October release of new guidelines for children 5 to 18 to be vaccinated, school boards in several Long Island school districts have ap-pealed to Hochul not to implement them.
A letter from Massapequa’s board stated, “Since Covid-19 poses little to no threat to children, why not try and flatten a different curve — the social-emotional curve?”
The Oyster Bay-East Norwich board’s letter added, “We urge you to reconsider your position and allow the decision to vaccinate our children against Covid-19 be an individual and personal one.”
In the CDC’s most recent update of its guidelines, “Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning,” on Oct. 5, it discussed strategies for schools to reduce the spread of Covid-19. The agency’s website states, “For Covid-19, staying up to date with Covid-19 vaccinations is the leading public health strategy to prevent severe disease.”
Lauren Themis, a Locust Valley school board trustee, introduced the topic at the board’s Jan. 18 meeting. The district has been a vocal supporter of parental choice in the past, even going so far as to join other districts in challenging mask mandates in court.
“Basically, there have been numerous districts throughout Long Island, New York state that have been sending correspondence to the governor’s office expressing their desire to maintain parental choice in the face of the Covid-19 vaccine push,” Themis said.
The trustees discussed whether to join other school districts in writing a letter to Hochul. Board Vice President Margaret Marchand argued that while she supported the efforts of other districts’ boards, Locust Valley residents expressed no strong need or desire to write such a letter.
Marchand asserted that neither Hochul nor the Legislature has the authority to force families in the district to vaccinate their children. She cited several recent cases decided by the State Supreme Court as evidence that there is no need to write to officials in Albany when the state cannot enforce a vaccine mandate.
The other letters “have all been asking permission of something that’s not law,” Marchand said.
“I really can’t wrap my head around wasting our breath or our time to write a letter to ask for permission for something which has just been proven seven times in the New York Supreme Court to be illegal.”
The cases were brought by Children’s Health Defense, an activist group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and best-known for its anti-vaccination stance — and its reputation for promoting misleading or incorrect information about Covid-19 vaccines. Marchand highlighted a Jan. 13 decision by Judge Gerard Neri, of State Supreme Court in Onondaga County, in favor of Children’s Health Defense, which ended vaccine mandates for health care workers in that county.
Ultimately the Locust Valley school board made no decision on writing a letter, as several trustees said they were unfamiliar with other districts’ letters. Instead, they agreed to do their own research and vote again at the next meeting.