ITHACA, NY -- The Ithaca City School District Board of Education addressed myriad concerns from residents who claimed the COVID vaccine is an “experimental injection,” that the school district was forcing children to get vaccinated, and that the students were part of a “study” in which some would unknowingly get placebo shots. The group also took issue with the mask requirements and claimed the disease was being far overblown, especially as it pertains to children.
Board member Erin Croyle pointed out the millions of people who have died of COVID-19 worldwide and said that the accusations hit a personal nerve with her.
“I’m talking on a very personal level when I hear people talk about how people shouldn’t wear masks and children aren’t at risk,” she said. “I’ve spent the last 15 months at home because my son is very much at risk, and shame on you for not reading about that. He is not the only child in this district at risk, there are children at risk. When we talk about comorbidities it’s as if it’s a human being’s fault that they’re at risk […] So when you talk about how this doesn’t affect children and it doesn’t matter, I’m sorry but you’re wrong and you’re not doing the research.”
She added that the mask mandates and the availability of vaccines were for the safety of children like hers.
“I’m not getting into a vaccine debate but remember that some of the sources and ‘facts’ I’ve heard [from you] are from QAnon,” she said. “One person said to let kids be kids, and yes I’d love it, but some of our kids cannot be kids if all kids don’t wear masks. You’re being selfish and forgetting about kids who are high risk. It’s ableist, it’s wrong, and remember that your world is not the only bubble that exists."
Board member Eldred Harris clarified that the board is under the authority of the CDC, the state health department and the Tompkins County Health Department.
“When we take these positions we have to take an oath to support the constitution and the existing laws,” he said. “We’re not free agents to make these decisions. The last thing I’ll say is for those who spoke at the podium an addressed the school board as if these decisions are ours to make, you should run for these positions.”
Deputy Superintendent Lily Talcott also addressed the accusation from a resident that the school is running vaccine clinics and forcing children to get vaccinated.
“The Tompkins County Health Department is utilizing our physical spaces and their insurance provides all liability coverage,” she said. “We’re simply hosting clinics and the Health Department is running them. Caregivers do have to provide written consent.”
In answering other questions and accusations from speakers, Talcott clarified that anyone under the age of 18 getting vaccinated is receiving the Pfizer vaccine because that’s the only one approved for that age group, the Health Department is the one paying for the vaccine distribution (though they will be seeking reimbursement through FEMA), no placebo shot will be used, and all parents of children receiving the vaccine receive a full copy of the FDA’s emergency use authorization and a warning page synopsis. She added that no student is required to receive the vaccine.
One board member (with masks covering their mouths it was unclear who was speaking) pointed out that local school districts will never have the power to mandate vaccines, as that power lies with the state.
“If the state mandates it then we can’t fight that or ignore it either because it’s New York state law and we’re sworn to uphold the state law and we will not violate in either direction,” the board member said.
Board member Nicole LaFave said she empathized with the speakers’ reluctance to trust the government, especially as a Black woman, but said she got vaccinated and her children wear masks because they’re sacrifices worth making to avoid worse scenarios.
In other news
Student representative Adam Saar presented survey results to the board that found 53% of 160 respondents who identify as women said they have experienced sexual harassment or assault at school within ICSD, while 24% of the 112 who responded that did not identify as women they have too.
He added that an anonymous form was also sent out for people to share their experiences, and he said a number of students said they reported the situation to an adult but no measures were taken to prevent it from happening again.
“Clearly these numbers and stories show how prevalent sexual harassment and assault is at ICSD,” Saar said. “This is a tragedy, and we think there’s a clear way to combat it in the future.”
Saar suggested expanding consent education for elementary and muddle schoolers, and also requested in-depth education, especially for boys, on sexual harassment and consent.
“I think it should be incorporated into the social and emotional curriculum so students can learn from a young age what is acceptable and what is not OK,” he said.
Board member Sean Eversley Bradwell said that there is curriculum for students from Pre-K through 12th grade that talk about forms of consent in different ways, examining boundaries and respecting people’s bodies.
“I firmly agree we can expand consent education,” he said.
Croyle said it also seemed like a good place for professional development with teachers. Overall the board was receptive to the idea and said it would reach out to unions, educators and administrators.