Bedford school officials are meeting with the district’s unions to determine if there is support to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joel Adelberg said that the district and the unions were scheduled to begin a conversation before the holiday weekend to explore the possibility of vaccines or compulsory weekly testing.
He said shortly after taking over the executive mansion, Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Department of Health issued a clear mandate that masks must be worn inside a school building, although they may be taken off outside. Now Hochul is exploring whether there can be a directive regarding vaccines for staff members.
“She delivered in a very strong statement through the New York State Department of Health a clear mandate on masks within a day and I think they’re just figuring out the language and she needs the authorization,” Adelberg said.
The state legislature would need to give Hochul the authority to issue a vaccine requirement but until that happens it becomes a legal question for each district to resolve on their own, he said.
While the issue of vaccines will be addressed, district officials received an earful from several parents at last Wednesday evening’s Board of Education meeting questioning why the district is forcing students to wear masks.
Pound Ridge Elementary School parent Jacob Margulis was one of several speakers who challenged officials for going along with the state requirement. He said masks could be detrimental, with the collection of bacteria that can be harbored in a mask, especially for children who play or run around.
It also can hurt them psychologically, he said.
“For kids, it’s very important to see their facial expressions,” Margulis said. “It’s a very important part of their development and they don’t have it.”
Another parent, Brad Scala, said the inconsistent conclusions from health officials regarding masks has been confusing, and other data fails to point out that most people are not contagious unless they reach a certain threshold of virus.
“If we’re going to go forward and we’re going to go back to normalcy, we’ll have to be guided by the facts,” he said.
While school officials didn’t comment on the science-related portions of their comments, Adelberg said the district is mandated by the state to make sure that everyone inside a school building is masked.
“Every public and private school, preschool to 12th grade, that’s a requirement across New York State,” Adelberg said. “I’m not talking to you politically; that’s a statement that we got from New York State.”
He added that the same statement, which came from the state Department of Health about two weeks ago, also stressed that if there are data points that show the region maintaining a low infection rate, the mandate can be rescinded.
The seven-county Mid Hudson region, which includes Westchester, had a 3.6 percent infection rate on the seven-day rolling through Saturday as well as a one-day 3.6 percent positivity rate. For Westchester, those figures were 2.9 percent.
The Board of Education announced that it has retained the education search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to begin the process of attracting candidates for the next district superintendent.
Board President John Boucher said the firm will conduct a survey followed by a public forum to get a better understanding of the type of leader the community would like. There will then be focus groups created and the candidates will meet with staff and board members, he said.
The goal is to have the next superintendent in place for the start of the 2022-23 school year. Adelberg announced his retirement earlier this year.