The City Council's Common Sense Caucus is calling for vaccine requirements to be eased in NYC public schools. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hammel)
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The new school year is in full swing, and while some coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions were eased for students and staff members in New York City public schools, some vaccine mandates remain in place — a situation that Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore) calls “absurd.”
Borelli, who is part of the Common Sense Caucus in the City Council, explained that the group met with Mayor Eric Adams and city Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan last week to discuss easing coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine mandates for public and private employees, which includes teachers and school staff, and allow all vaccinated and unvaccinated students to participate in sports and after-school activities. The caucus also asked for an end to a vaccine mandate for all visitors — including parents — to school buildings.
“We confronted the mayor and the health commissioner on the need to rescind these mandates that no longer have any basis in public health rationale,” said Borelli.
The conversation came after Staten Island elected officials also called for an end to the requirement of the coronavirus vaccine for students in extracurriculars and sports programs deemed “high-risk,” as well as parents and visitors entering school buildings.
Borough President Vito J. Fossella and other officials sent a letter last week to Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor David Banks and Vasan requesting that the agencies reconsider the COVID-19 guidance ahead of the new school year. Borelli also signed the letter.
According to the DOE, the coronavirus vaccine is still required for the following people:
Sports considered high-risk include football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, stunt and rugby.
Additionally, a COVID-19 vaccination requirement applies to students participating in high-risk after-school extracurricular activities like chorus, musical theater, dance/dance team, band/orchestra (with concern for woodwinds), marching band and cheerleading/step team/flag team.
“With respect to the student ones [vaccine mandates] and the activity ones, as parents, they have been shown — these are now demonstrably absurd,” Borelli said. “Kyrie Irving is in no greater danger than some sophomore playing basketball, nor are kids in any more danger playing sports than they are in the classroom, nor are parents anymore the cause of danger whether they’re vaccinated or unvaccinated. And that’s directly from the CDC. So if we want to encourage student after-school activities, and parental involvement, the way to do that is to end these mandates.”
Borelli added he doesn’t want to see students miss yet another year of a sport or activity, especially one that can be an entrance to college, a potential career, or a chance to lift many youth and their families out of poverty.
“It’s simply absurd,” he said.
The Common Sense Caucus said in a statement that there is more work to do, but based on the conversations with the mayor and health commissioner, the group is “optimistic that some positive changes to these policies may be forthcoming.”
When asked for a comment about the Common Sense Caucus’s statement, Patrick Gallahue, spokesperson for the city Health Department, said the agency’s statement in regard to Fossella’s letter last week still stands.
“We thank the authors of this letter for raising these important issues with us and we look forward to continuing our dialogue with them in the days ahead,” said Gallahue in response to Fossella’s letter. “We fully recognize the toll that COVID has taken on New Yorkers’ mental health, especially youth. We have made services for young people a high priority and aim to do even more.”
Gallahue continued: “We must add, however, that vaccination remains the single best protection against severe illness caused by COVID-19. Every action we’ve taken has been directed at preventing any more suffering from this terrible virus. We want to keep our children safe in class, in their school communities, and safe from COVID.”
According to the city Health Department, many high-risk extracurricular activities are performed indoors, are strenuous, and entail closer contact than classroom activities.
The coronavirus vaccine is not mandated for public school students in New York City, though it is highly encouraged. The DOE stated on its website that vaccination is the “best way to reduce COVID-19 risk” and encourages up-to-date vaccination for everyone 6 months or older.
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