Th new law removes religious exemptions for required vaccinations
School districts across the state, including local districts like East Islip, have been put between federal and state legislation and the children and families who will be excluded from school after the recent removal of religious exemptions for vaccines in June, just about three months prior to the first day of school.
Children and parents were forced to make a decision: get vaccinated prior to the start of school or do not return to their public education.
Now, according to the New York State Department of Health, all children attending public, private or religious schools—pre-k and daycare—must get all required vaccinations unless they have a valid medical exemption.
That means about 26,000 New York State students who have previously received religious exemptions are affected by this change. However, students who already have all required school vaccinations, and students with a valid medical exemption from a physician, are not affected.
The recent measles outbreak prompted this new law after over 1,000 cases were reported across the state since October 2018.
Commissioner of Health and pediatrician, Howard A. Zucker, released a PSA for New York State promising that vaccines are safe and effective. “The recent anti-vaccination movement is causing confusion and fear and is one reason there are more and more reports of these diseases here in New York and across the nation,” he said. “I am a father. My kids are vaccinated.”
In a letter to the district, superintendent of East Islip Union Free School District John Dolan stated that he and the district were blindsided by the law, and that a slew of students are enrolled with religious exemption from vaccinations. Dolan submitted the letter last month to Hon. Denise Hartman of the state Supreme Court to express the district’s concerns.
“In my 34-year career, the religious exemption has never caused one issue or one problem,” Dolan wrote. “It is unconscionable that legislators passed a bill on June 13, which for educators is akin to 4/14 for accountants. We were not consulted, we were not able to give our input and we were not asked to explain the full ramifications for this decision.”
He went on to say that the district was preoccupied preparing for graduation, moving-up ceremonies and closing the manila folder on the school year “when this bill was slipped under the radar.” All in all, Dolan requested Hartman grant a stay in order to “work together for a solution to this situation.”
Valerie Domenech, a mother from East Islip who signed her third-grade son out of public school on Monday and began homeschooling, said that nullifying religious exemptions from receiving vaccinations is a violation of civil and human rights.
“We need to restore our First Amendment rights and our children’s right to a free education,” she said, adding that it is unclear how vaccinations can affect an individual. “I believe we are healthy when we are born. We don’t take medicine if we are not sick.” n