OLD BRIDGE – Members of the Old Bridge Township Council took a stance opposing state Sen. Joseph Vitale’s (D-19) proposal to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students once the vaccine is approved for students and once students return to full in-person learning.
Vitale, chairman of the Senate’s health committee, began discussion with other lawmakers mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for students last month.
“The side effects of these vaccines have not been fully studied yet,” Ward 4 Councilman Mark Razzoli said at a meeting on Feb. 9. “Making it mandatory puts children at greater risk than COVID-19 itself.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency use approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 11 and the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 18.
“The FDA issued emergency use authorization approved for [people] 16 and older for prevention of COVID-19,” Razzoli said. “An individual’s health and medical condition is personal and private. No person, including a government agency, employer, airline or third party, should be permitted to intimidate or pressure any person into taking or having their child take experimental vaccines that have not demonstrated safety and effectiveness using the same rigorous, scientific standards that are standard of other drugs.”
Ward 5 Councilman Tony Paskitti said religious exemptions for vaccines have been a time honored position among religious folks across the country.
“This enables them to abstain from giving their children vaccines,” he said. “It’s a personal choice and parents have rights. I don’t think vaccines or any medication should be mandatory from our government.”
The council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the proposal to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students.
Support for in-person back-to-school resolution
The council approved a resolution supporting township parents and children in their request to open schools safely without further delay. Ward 3 Councilwoman Edina Brown abstained from the vote.
Parents called in to the council meetings in January and February asking support from council members for re-opening schools. They held a rally outside of the Education Association Building in January. Mayor Owen Henry and several council members joined the rally.
School officials announced at a Board of Education meeting on Jan. 12 that they planned, at the time, to return to hybrid in-person instruction with an AA/BB 50% capacity on March 1.
The district began its hybrid in-person instruction model in October at 33% capacity; however, with a rise in state and local COVID-19 numbers, the district returned to a fully remote schedule on Nov. 23.
Ward 2 Councilman Erik DePalma said he supports the students going back to in-person learning because of the rise in mental health issues.
“There is a large number of students who are suffering,” he said. “Suicide rates have jumped up since COVID-19 has risen in our country. It’s not something we should take lightly. There are many children that require that hands-on experience with their education in the school, [which is] one of the most important things in their development. Some [students] can get the help they need and eventually learn and function by themselves, which is great.”
DePalma said students deserve better and parents deserve to have the opportunity to make the case whether they want to keep their children home or not. He said his third-grade daughter sits next to him in his office at home during remote learning.
“I’m lucky enough I’m at a point in my career that I can stop what I’m doing to help her with a technology issue she may be having and help her with some of the work that she’s doing,” he said, adding some parents do not have the luxury of stepping away from work, even if for five minutes.
Brown said she understands the parents’ concerns on both sides. She said she has two children in the district, a student in eighth grade and a student in fourth grade.
“To be honest, [remote learning] is more difficult for my fourth grader than my eighth grader,” she said. “It’s harder to pay attention when that young … [they] miss the social interactions.”
Brown said she understands the concerns about the psychological effects remote learning may have on the students.
“I’m monitoring my kids very closely to make sure they are OK,” she said. “Everyone needs socialization and school is a big part of that.”
The Old Bridge Public School District implemented Wellness Wednesdays on Jan. 19, which are half-day sessions for all students, in response to concerns from parents, teachers and students in some cases on the overwhelming pressure they face as the district continues its remote platform.
When the district returns to its hybrid in-person instruction model, Wednesdays will be a remote day for all students.
James Tuohy, assistant superintendent of education programs, said Wednesday afternoons allow for students to catch up on missed work; and schedule time with their school counselors, child student teacher case managers, student assistant coordinator counselors or teachers to address concerns they have with remote learning.
Teachers can also use the time to communicate with students and parents and plan for additional classroom activities, Tuohy said.
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