CDS to mandate COVID vaccines for age-eligible students
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COVID-19Shots to be required for those 5 and up

CDS to mandate COVID vaccines for age-eligible students

Head of School, Avi Baran Munro: “Achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination is one of the most critical strategies to help CDS safely operate."

(Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels)
(Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels)

Community Day School has announced it will require all age-eligible students to have a COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend the Squirrel Hill Jewish day school.

Head of School Avi Baran Munro said, in an email to CDS parents last week, that the decision was made “after consultation with our medical advisors and with the unanimous support of the Community Day School Board of Trustees.”

CDS has students in pre-K to eighth grade. Currently, only children 12 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but Munro said CDS is anticipating FDA emergency authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine “for children ages five to 11 in the coming weeks.” Once the Food and Drug Administration provides the emergency use authorization, CDS will give students eight weeks to receive both Pfizer shots.

“In addition to providing for students’ academic and developmental needs, we are committed to protecting the physical health of our community,” Munro told parents in the Oct. 21 e-mail. “Above all, we remain inspired by Pikuach Nefesh (“safeguarding life”), a bedrock principle of Jewish law, and dedicated to safeguarding your families and our staff.”

Officials from Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh said last week they were not joining CDS in mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for students.

“My understanding at this point is that it’s premature to mandate it until the CDC is mandating it,” Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, head of Yeshiva Schools, told the Chronicle. “We respect each other and we respect their differences. … We’ll watch and see and look at the recommendations from the CDC. And we’ll adjust accordingly.”

Hillel Academy officials were not available as of press time to detail the Squirrel Hill school’s student vaccination plan.

CDS parent Michael Sampson voiced enthusiastic support for the school’s vaccine mandate last week. “It’s a wonderful and well-thought-out and much needed plan to ensure the safety of our children,” he said.

“When faced with a deadly pandemic, … it would be irresponsible not to require vaccinations, as we do with other diseases,” said Sampson, whose daughter is a CDS fifth grader and whose son attends Taylor Allderdice High School. “I’m so proud of Community Day School. … We’re supposed to care about each other and those who are vulnerable. Having a vaccine mandate is not only good policy and good science, it’s entirely in line with Jewish values.”

CDS parent Yana Mednik was less sure. The Squirrel Hill resident is vaccinated against COVID-19 but said she’s uncomfortable with the school requiring the vaccine for her young children.

“My opinion will be unpopular but I was shocked — not because they mandated vaccines but because they gave such a short time to do it,” said Mednik, who has a son in kindergarten and a daughter in third grade at CDS. “I want to see some information about side effects. I want to do research.”

CDS spokesperson Jennifer Bails defended the school’s vaccine mandate.

“This measure is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom, as well as preventing spread of coronavirus in the community,” Bails told the Chronicle. “We already require that students are vaccinated against a number of illness-causing viruses such as measles and mumps. And there is no reason we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19 if federal regulators deem it safe to do so.”

Munro wrote in her Oct. 21 e-mail that “achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination is one of the most critical strategies to help CDS safely operate and protect our most vulnerable individuals, especially given the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

“The vaccine dramatically reduces the incidence of serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19 and has been strongly supported by American Academy of Pediatrics and public health officials for children and adolescents,” Munro added.

Currently, 95% of eligible CDS students — seventh- and eighth-graders — and 100% of CDS employees are fully vaccinated, CDS officials said.

Once the FDA greenlights vaccinations for children 5 and older, Munro said the school would offer COVID-19 vaccine clinics in partnership with Rite Aid. It also plans to hold a town hall-style meeting with an online panel of physicians on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m.

All medical exemptions for CDS students must be reviewed and approved by the school’s immunization advisory panel, officials said.

“Please note we consider vaccination to be a part of our Jewish obligation to protect one’s own life and health and that of others,” Munro said. “Therefore, pursuant to Judaic principles and CDS tenets, we will not grant exemptions based upon religious belief or strong moral or ethical convictions.” PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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