Mount Pleasant school officials are arranging a community forum with elected officials at every level of government after several parents recently expressed concern that COVID-19 vaccines might be mandated for children to attend school.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Peter Giarizzo said the district, possibly in partnership with the Valhalla School District, is hoping to hold a public session sometime in January on education-related matters. Invitees are Congressman Mondaire Jones, state senators Peter Harckham and Shelley Mayer, who chairs the Senate’s Education Committee, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, County Executive George Latimer, County Legislator Margaret Cunzio and Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi.
“Vaccines are certainly one issue that we can talk about but it’s not the only issue we face as a school system, so we would want that session to be about lots of different things,” Giarizzo said.
One parent pointed to legislation introduced in October by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), whose bill would require every student to be immunized against COVID-19, adding it to the list of other vaccines mandated by the state for children to attend school, and vowed to fight any mandate.
Two parents who spoke on the issue during the Mount Pleasant Board of Education’s last meeting on Dec. 15 said they were looking for the government to continue to allow them to make the choice for what is best for their children and family.
“If we can get them here as soon as possible and we can get all of their support and no matter which way you choose, but that’s what we’re looking for, a choice,” said resident Carlo Valente. “That’s all we’re asking for.”
Giarizzo said Mount Pleasant will steer clear of any vaccine mandate for the school community.
“There is no mandate and we do not intend to impose one for either our staff or our students,” he said. “We will not. As (Board of Education) President Horan has stated, parents can make these informed decisions with their pediatricians and health care professionals.”
Another parent, Lauren Stanco, said she fears that with the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the situation could result in a switch back to remote learning, which has occurred in several districts before the holiday break in the region.
“It’s such a concern for these kids. They’ve lived through this,” Stanco said. “I feel like it’s March again, two years ago. How much of this can we avoid shutting down again.”
One step that the district has taken is its “test to stay” program, which started the week of Dec. 13 and has saved 647 student school days across the district, Giarizzo said. The program provides a rapid test before the start of the school day to unvaccinated students who have been exposed to COVID-19.
Each exposed student must be tested for a seven-day period. If they test negative, they can stay in school, if not they are sent home. Parents must fill out a consent form in advance to allow their children to be tested, which is found on the district’s website.
The purpose of program is to keep schools open, the superintendent said, and with the cooperation of parents and the hard work of staff, it’s been going well.
“My job is to keep kids in school,” Giarizzo said. “Our principals and administrators and the board (are) very committed to make sure that happens. We have not discussed any kind of extended closure. Honestly, that is like the last resort for me.”
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