“My Kids Are Never Going to Be This Age Again.”: What One Parent Has to Say About Being Barred from School by NYC's Vaccine Mandate
Want to go to your kid's school play, holiday party, or story time? In New York City public schools, you'll need to present proof of vaccination for that.
“If the point of these activities is for family involvement and kids to interact with their parents and to see some of the things that have been going on in the classroom, I have been excluded from that. If there's anything good about it, I'm not getting any of that benefit. . . . If the well-being of the kids is really what we're after here, then I should not be excluded from these events.”
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In this interview, which is part of the New York Mandate Podcast series, I talk with a mother whose children attend New York City public schools. Because she hasn’t taken a COVID-19 vaccine, the Department of Education’s school visitor policy bars her from entering school buildings. The policy has been in effect since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.
This NYC parent decided to remain anonymous, so I’m publishing our conversation in written form. However, if you prefer audio, you can download the Substack app for iOS or Android and use Substack’s automated text-to-speech player. Just click the headphone icon at the top of the screen.
Aimee: What happened with your kids during the pandemic? During the very beginning, in 2020, a lot of the schools shut down.
NYC Parent: In 2020, I had one child in public school and two in Catholic school. My public school guy went to the remote learning, the Google Classroom. My two younger ones were in Catholic school and they didn't have Google Classroom, but they did have some online assignments. And then there would be some in-person meetings.
They were little, so sometimes it would just be videos to watch and then little activities. My little guy was in kindergarten. Basically, he would do his assignments and take pictures of them, and send the pictures to the teacher. That's kind of how 2020 ended up. They were still doing that until June 2020.
When they came back in the fall, my two in Catholic school were back in person, with masks on. And then my older guy was on an alternating schedule, if I remember correctly. They had cohorts, and some days he would be in person and some days he would be on Google Classroom. You know, it was weird for him to be on Google Classroom, to spend so much time alone in his room. I know that he wasn't completely engaged the whole time.
He recently told me—I had to do some meeting online, and he was like, “Well, you know, if you need to go do something, mom, just type in AFK.” And I was like, “What's that?” He said, “Oh, that means ‘away from keyboard.’ You just type that in and then you can disappear.” I said, “Really? I never heard of that.” He was like, “Oh yeah, I used to do that in Google Classroom all the time.” I was like, “Oh, okay.”
I do have pretty good students, and so yeah, they definitely lost some learning, but they didn't completely fall off track. And I'm thankful for that. They did lose a lot of writing skills, because they didn't use a pencil and paper for a really long time.
Everything was just done on Google Classroom. My son's handwriting is atrocious. His grammar is awful. His current teacher told me that it's common, for his whole class. That missed time of actually putting pen to paper really affected them. They're in remedial grammar, and his handwriting has never been great, but he didn't have any chance to improve it.
The other two—honestly, in Catholic school it was kind of like back to normal, just with masks. Even from the fall of 2020, there were no restrictions on, from what I recall, parents going in, picking up. There were probably a few in school activities, things like the Christmas fair. I don't think they had that again until the following Christmas.
I think they had restrictions on the number of fans that could go to games in the Catholic school gym. But other than that, the Catholic schools were kind of back to normal when my older guy was still doing these cohorts.
Aimee: Explain what the cohorts are.
NYC Parent: His class was broken up into—I don’t know if it's by class or his grade—but into different groups, like A, B, and C. And A would be in person on certain days of the week and other days of the week they would be on Google Classroom, and that would alternate with the other cohorts, B and C.
I think by the middle of the school year, they had worked out the classroom enough distancing-wise that he was able to come back in person every day by the middle of that school year, ’21 to ’22.
Aimee: So they had an intermediate hybrid phase in the public school.
NYC Parent: Yeah, and there were really no in-school activities, and I didn't even really notice that parents had any restrictions on them. All the pickups are outside in the school yard, and so I guess there were restrictions, but there was so little happening in the school building that I didn't notice it.
Aimee: So when they went back to school, you were kind of able to participate in a normal way in their school life until the mandate came down.
NYC Parent: Right. Actually, I didn't even really notice the restriction on parents until this year. Because like I said, there were so few things going on in the school building. There was really no need for me to go in there. I think I was in the school building a couple of times last year, picking him up from an after-school activity. Like, nobody asked me for a vax card. I don't remember it being a big deal until this year.
Aimee: So what happened this year?
NYC Parent: This year is when they brought back a lot of the pre-COVID activities, and they made it a point to put in writing the policy that visitors to the school—and that includes parents—would not be permitted in the building without the vax card and a photo ID. And they enforce it. My kids are now all this year in public school. And it's not just a policy on paper. It’s enforced. It started right away in September.
There was this read-aloud event, and it's a time when parents are invited into the classroom. The teacher reads a story, so you get a chance to observe an ELA [English language acquisition] class, an English class. I had done this before COVID.
I really like it. You get a chance to see the classroom. You get a chance to see where your kid is spending, you know, six hours a day. You get a chance to see how the other kids interact with each other and how the teacher teaches, and it's a chance to meet some other parents.
So I thought: I know this policy's in place, but I think the principal is a reasonable person. I do have a reasonable accommodation from my employment, and I presented this to the principal and I said, “Hey, I want to go to the read-aloud morning and, you know, don't worry about me because I test weekly, basically. No problem, right?”
She's like, “No, that is a problem. You're not allowed in. You have to have proof of one shot. No exceptions, no excuses. That's it.” I was like, “Wow, really?” She's like, “Yeah. I ran it past legal and that's my final answer.” I was like, “Okay.”
Aimee: She said you had to have proof of one shot?
NYC Parent: Yeah, I guess that's the minimum. On your vax card, you have to have at least one shot when you present your card, So then I said, “Okay, you sure about that?” You know, this is all in e-mail. She was like, “Yeah, I'm sure.” And so I said, “Okay, I guess you consulted with your lawyer and I'll consult with mine.” And we left it like that.
Aimee: And is that something that you’re planning to pursue?
NYC Parent: Yeah, I have discussed it with a lawyer. I know there are other parents who are considering legal action, and I do think I'm going to pursue it. I just kind of felt like maybe given time they’d become a little more lax about it, or maybe that policy will just become so disfavored that they'll lift it.
I don't hear that much noise about it. Honestly, I haven't even met any other parents at my school in the same situation as I am. And of course, I don't know where would I meet them, because we're not at the building. All these school events where parents get together—we're not there.
Aimee: What other kinds of events and activities do you miss out on because of this? You have elementary-school-aged kids. That's usually a time when there are a lot of plays and events and festivals and all kinds of things going on with young kids at school. So what kinds of things are you not able to attend?
NYC Parent: A few things were the reading morning that I mentioned, and then they have a similar math morning. They had a Halloween party after school. It was a PTA [parent-teacher association] event that I was not allowed to go to. The book fair, where you can kind of help the kids with money. I wasn't allowed to go to that. There was a middle school fair for my oldest who is going into middle school next year. I wasn't allowed to go to that.
Recently there was this toy drive event at the school for the holidays, and it was on the weekend and they said “vax required.” Then they sent a followup message that was like, “But if you don't have a vax, we'll have like a special door for you to come in.”—which I thought was weird, and I had no idea how they decided that that event was going to be different. Was it because it was on the weekend? I don't know. It just seems like when they want to get around it, they can.
But today there was a holiday fair that I was not allowed to go to. So I'm giving my little kids cash and hoping that they spend it wisely and come home with change. There's going to be some performances coming up. I don't know if they're going to try to do Zoom for some of these. I think they are.
The problem with Zoom is, though, they'll do a Zoom event for all the different classes at the same time. So for me to see my three kids, I have to have three different devices and look at them all at the same time. So, there is an event coming up and I don't know if it's going to be on Zoom at the same time. It's a story time they're having, like a holiday story time and craft that I'm not going be permitted to go to.
My youngest was graduating from kindergarten last June, and during the SLT [school leadership team] meeting, the principal stated that vaccination was required even for an outdoor ceremony in the school yard. I said that made no sense because everyone does pickup and dropoff in the school yard every day with no vax requirement.
She basically said too bad. I was like, “Would you have parents standing on the other side of the chain link fence looking into the school yard? How can that be fair?” One parent agreed it didn't make sense. Everyone else in the meeting, including the PTA president, was like, "Those are the rules. We don't make rules." And "It's best for the children."
I e-mailed the superintendent after the meeting. The actual rule was that no vax was required for outdoor ceremonies, but to use an indoor bathroom, vax cards were required. Still dumb, but at least I could go to the ceremony. The superintendent e-mailed the principal, who said she was sorry for the confusion. So I did attend my daughter's kindergarten graduation.
My husband is vaccinated, so he can go to some things, which is good, because my kids have someone there. He was able to go to—in the fall, they had a dad's day, or like a bring your hero to school day. And he was able to go to that, which was good. If there was a mom's event, bring your mom to school day, which I don't think they have, but that would kind of stink for my kids because dad can't substitute for me on that one.
And it's a little weird to explain to them why these events are going on and I can't be there. I basically have to say, “Your principal and your school are not being fair to mommy. And I want to go, but they're not letting me, and they're wrong. You have to follow the rules, but the rules aren't always fair.”
Aimee: How did they take that explanation?
NYC Parent: The first event, they were really disappointed, and then I told them, “Listen, if it makes you sad that mommy can't go, tell your teacher.” I don't know if they did that, but I think that the teachers and the administration should know that it's affecting kids and it's not good for them.
If the point of these activities is for family involvement and kids to interact with their parents and to see some of the things that have been going on in the classroom, I have been excluded from that. If there's anything good about it, I'm not getting any of that benefit. And they should know that. If the well-being of the kids is really what we're after here, then I should not be excluded from these events, particularly when I am testing every week.
And if there was a reasonable accommodation available, I would probably be entitled to it. There isn't even a reasonable accommodation process available to parents. You can't say, “I object on the basis of my disability or a medical condition or my religion.” It's not even an option. It's like: “This is the rule. It doesn't matter. Why you can’t comply? If you don't comply, you don't get in.”
Aimee: I know that there's a broad spectrum of views among teachers, among parents and administrators, on vaccines and mandates. There are parents who favor the mandates, who think people who are in school buildings should be vaccinated because that will keep children safer and reduce the possibility of them getting sick. So what do you say to those parents who are in favor of this type of mandate?
NYC Parent: I would say that I think we all have experience with people who have been vaccinated and continue to get COVID. And I think just from a practical standpoint, we know it doesn't work. But if people are super afraid . . . the thing is, there are valid reasons to object to the mandate, whether you believe it works or not.
And I would also say: Listen, the kids aren't vaccinated, right? So like, what is the point? If you believe in vaccinations, maybe your kid is vaccinated. But there are plenty of kids who aren’t. And so you're obviously comfortable with some level of risk, right? So why are you drawing the line? It is kind of an arbitrary line because 18 and up is what they say has to show proof of vaccination. So if I was a teen mom, I could get in.
Aimee: There are some lawmakers who are proposing vaccination for kids. There are some people who support adding it to the vaccination requirements for school. What are your thoughts about that?
NYC Parent: There's absolutely no basis in fact or science for that. I think that it's really transparent that there are other motives for wanting to do that. It has nothing to do with public health. It does not prevent infection transmission. It does not have any good reason for it.
I think that even from the beginning of this COVID epidemic, when we didn't know much about it, we always knew that kids were the least likely among us to get really sick. And that's been my experience. My kids have had it once. A couple of them have had it twice, and they got over it within a couple of days.
I just think that any elected officials who would vote for that would never get my vote again, and I would make it my mission to prevent them from ever winning another election.
Aimee: What would you—I know it’s probably difficult to say—but what do you think you would do if that did become a law?
NYC Parent: That they were requiring your kids to get vaccinated in order to attend school?
NYC Parent: First of all, I'd look for a school where it didn't apply, but assuming that there is no school where it doesn't apply, I would look for schools in New Jersey. I've already scoped a few out, because I know that this is a possibility.
Then, you know, I would really have to get creative with . . . Between my husband's schedule and mine, it’s really not an option to stop working altogether. But if my only option was homeschool, I would do it.
Aimee: Why do you feel so strongly? Why did you decide not to take the vaccine, and why do you not want to give it to your kids?
NYC Parent: I have a religious objection to it based on the abortion connection. We are a traditional Catholic family. We are pro-life and this is a foundational belief in our belief system, and it's not new. But what is new is this vaccine that has—and no one can dispute that the development and the testing of all three of the available vaccines are connected to the use of fetal cell lines from aborted fetuses.
Whether that was recent or not is of no import to me. My objection is to making any kind of use of the products of the abortions, benefiting from that in any way, and perpetuating this pharmaceutical industry that's connected to abortion.
I think it's kind of like a big evil machine going on out there, and forcing people to buy a product that has been derived from what I consider to be the murder of an innocent child is completely immoral and completely violates my rights, and my children's too.
Aimee: Do you have that same objection with other vaccines, or is this one different in some way?
NYC Parent: I am not familiar with any other vaccine that has been developed and tested from fetal cell lines derived from an abortion. I've run in pro-life circles for many years, and if it had been a real moral issue, I think I would've encountered it.
But as far as, like, the flu vaccine, to my knowledge, it does not derive from abortion. Other infant vaccines, to my knowledge, have not been tested or developed with human fetal cell lines from abortion. To my knowledge, this vaccine is unique in that way. And of course it's the only vaccine that I've ever as an adult been confronted with on a mandatory basis.
Aimee: You said before that there was an event that happened at the school that had a secret door, or a different door, for people who were unvaccinated?
NYC Parent: Yeah, it was this toy drive over the weekend. They were giving away toys. They call it a toy drive, but really they were giving away toys. The policy was vax required; bring your photo ID and vax card. And then the next line was, “Hey, no vax, no problem! Contact us and there'll be a special door for you to enter.”
Aimee: Did you go through the special door?
NYC Parent: No. I wasn't planning on going to the event. I just don’t know what the thinking behind that is at all. Maybe it's because it was on the weekend that made it somehow different. I don't know. But yeah, it seems like there are different rules for different events.
Aimee: Okay. I had to ask. What else do you want to talk about that I haven't asked you about? What other ways is this mandate is affecting your family?
NYC Parent: I would just say it has set up such a weird dynamic in my house, having to explain to my kids that people who they're supposed to learn from and trust—and teachers and principals are supposed to be people that teach them and are trustworthy—that they're discriminating against mom. It's a really weird thing.
And of course, I would love to go to some of these events. My kids are never going to be this age again. To be able to see the environment where your kids are learning for hours a day is important. There's one teacher that'll sometimes send pictures, so I get a vague idea of what's going on, who they sit near, how the classroom is set up—Is their jacket on the floor? Where's their lunchbox? Stuff like that. But it's a real loss.
And I just feel like there are reasonable people, other parents . . . I mean, I go to these like PTA and SLT meetings, and they seem like reasonable, rational people, and they just have absolutely no problem with the fact that I'm not permitted in the building.
The last SLT meeting I went to, they were like, “Oh, the exception for remote SLT meetings”—because that's how we've been doing it for the last two years—“is expiring. And so we're going to have to revisit this.” And obviously I'm the only one in the meeting who was going to be affected by it, right?
And it was just like, “Yeah, okay.” It wasn't like, “Don't worry, Mrs.____, we're going to figure something out. You'll definitely be participating. We're not going to isolate you and exclude you.” It was just like, “Okay, that's the rule. So we're going to enforce it.”
It's just like these people who would normally be kind or somewhat human just turned off a switch when it comes to these mandates. And that's been weird for me and my family.
Aimee: Have you had conversations about this with them? Have you brought it up at any of these meetings or talked to them one-on-one about how this is affecting you?
NYC Parent: I have mentioned it to a mom. She seemed kind of sympathetic. She doesn't go to the meetings, but she's a mom of one of my daughter's friends and she's like, “Oh yeah, that's too bad.” She said, “Yeah, it really doesn't make sense.” But I guess people feel powerless against the DOE.
And the conversation I had with my principal had absolutely no sympathy at all. It was like: That's the rule; too bad. And it was like, wow, she's just really a DOE reinforcing machine.
It's been many times during this pandemic when people who could have been leaders and could have taken a different approach haven’t. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that this is the same thing.
Aimee: How do you deal with parent-teacher conferences?
NYC Parent: They're doing those remote.
Aimee: They're remote for everyone, so it's not a different experience for you?
NYC Parent: Right. They're remote for everyone.
Aimee: Is there anywhere you’re finding support? People who are faced with mandates in employment might try to seek support through their union or through some other organization. As a parent, are you finding any support for your point of view?
NYC Parent: I have found a Telegram group. I don't know those people personally, but it's good to know that there are other parents out there who are concerned about the issue.
Some people at my job—not all of them have kids in public school, but when they heard about my situation, when one of my coworkers heard that I couldn't go to this read-aloud, he was offering to send someone there in my place who could represent me, which was kind of nice.
And of course, my lawyer. That's ultimately I think where I’m going to have to turn to, because the school year's going by and I'm missing these events. I don't know what kind of speed I could get in the courts, but that's what I'm going to have to do.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity and readability.
What does that mean? It means I take out some “um”s and “you know”s, but I don’t change anything of substance.
About the New York Mandate Podcast
The New York Mandate Podcast is an ongoing series of conversations exploring the costs and consequences of vaccine mandates in New York City. I talk with workers and parents who have been directly affected by the mandates, as well as legal and policy experts.
In late 2021, the City introduced a series of requirements for workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. These requirements were put in place through executive orders issued by the administration of former mayor Bill de Blasio. They covered nearly all workers in New York City, in both the public and private sectors. They also barred unvaccinated adults, including parents, from schools.
Current mayor Eric Adams continues to support vaccine mandates, which currently cover all City employees. The Adams administration made the private-sector vaccine mandate optional on November 1, 2022, and is now encouraging employers to put their own vaccine requirements in place.
The views expressed in the New York Mandate podcast are the personal opinions of the people speaking, and are not intended to provide medical or legal advice.
Join the Conversation
Have you lost your job, been put on leave, or lost opportunities to work as an independent contractor as a result of your decision not to comply with a New York vaccine mandate? Did you take a vaccine against your wishes in order to keep your job? Please get in touch with me at NYMpodcast@protonmail.com.