Story by Lisa Rice
When the Warwick Valley Central School district board members returned from a 40-minute executive session at the beginning of the regular meeting on Mon., Aug. 26, they quickly moved through the approval of minutes, consent agenda and bus routes to reports from administration.
Superintendent Dr. David Leach reported that as they begin the 2019-2020 school year, student enrollment is up to 3700 students district-wide. The largest increase was at the secondary level. At a mandatory student driver forum attendance was expected to be 660 juniors and seniors, and 360 9th graders would be attending the Freshman Orientation.
Attorney for the district, David Shaw, was present at the meeting to review the new New York State legislation that will no longer allow immunization exemptions for students based on religion. Previously, all students were required to be immunized in order to attend public school, except those who sought exemption for either religious or medical reasons. Shaw stated that the law was “absolute on anyone seeking religious exemption.”
In addition to eliminating the religious exemption, the New York State Department of Health implemented restrictions so physicians cannot be haphazard in providing medical exemptions. A detailed form justifying the reason for medical exemption is required. This form must be filled out and exemptions renewed annually.
Large Fines for Non-Compliant Schools
Shaw also explained that the school board has both a legal and fiduciary responsibility to enforce the law. “You are duty-bound to follow these laws,” he said. The penalties are significant. If a non-immunized student is allowed to attend classes, there is a $2,000 fine for the first offense and $5,000 for subsequent offenses.
Dr. Leach commented that he has already heard from some parents and that there seems to be a frustration over the length of time for vaccine protocols for previously unvaccinated children. According to Shaw, students who have not previously been vaccinated will have 14 days from the first day of school to begin age-appropriate vaccination protocols. If the protocol is broken, it must be resumed within 14 days or the student is to be excluded.
Not only will unvaccinated children be excluded from class, they are not allowed on school buses. This law covers all New York Public schools, charter schools, private schools and daycare centers. There is currently no requirement for faculty to be vaccinated, based on 1st and 14th amendment issues.
At this time, the only alternative offered to parents who choose not to immunize their children is homeschooling.
Will District Kick Students to the Curb?
Later in the meeting, during comments from residents, Brian Endrikat, whose son isn’t vaccinated addressed the board asking if they were going to exclude his son. “Are you cutting him loose? Kicking him to the curb?” he asked. He additionally asked if his son attends events to see his friends, in the nature of sports games, would he be trespassing. Endrikat stated that the law created a problem at the local level that the board needs to address. While the public is welcome to comment at the board meetings, the school board cannot address public statements, especially those with legal ramifications. Board President Sharon Davis thanked Endrikat for his comments.
Teachers Required to Give After School Help
Board member Bob Howe made a comment that there should be a way to get the word out that teachers have a contractual requirement to offer after school help for students who are struggling. He said that recently a parent of four children who is very active in the district told him that she didn’t know about the requirement. Leach stated that it could be shared at the school Open Houses, and that the spirit of the language is to ensure there is help for students who need it and not for childcare. Additional opportunities to receive teacher assistance would be before school or, in the high school, during unit lunch.
The Warwick Valley Coalition had a busy summer. In July they had a meeting with administration about the Middle School implementing a SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) program and they will interact with the HS SADD members. Also, a recent High School survey (done every two years) shows a decrease in alcohol use and an increase in vaping. Howe stated that the surveys are a little harder to interpret because some of the criteria changed.
2019-2020 Tax Rates Adopted
The board voted to accept New York State Bullet Aid of $20,000 for program support within the school district, a $500 Walmart Community Grant for Sanfordville Elementary School, and the Stewart Holiday Match Donation. They approved the 2019-2020 Code of Conduct and a new high school textbook entitled ”Active Physics.” The board accepted a donation of musical instruments from Ms. Arlene Neiman and a donation by the VFW 4662 Auxiliary to fund and establish the Patriotic Recognition Scholarship Award. They also approved the 2019-2020 tax rate of $157.67904 for Warwick and $37.117 for Chester The library tax will be $4.09797 for Warwick and $0.96465 for Chester. And the bond will be $1.08357 for Warwick and 0.25507 for Chester. The tax rates vary between Warwick and Chester because they are based on assessments and each town assesses property value differently.
The next meeting of the Warwick Valley Central School District will be held on Mon., Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center.