Kiryas Joel school could be fined up to $61 million due to unvaccinated students

The school allowed 121 students to attend school unvaccinated for nearly a year, carrying a maximum penalty of $2,000 per student per day

Credit: Anawat_s/iStockPhoto

Feb 23, 2024 12:00 PM


A boys’ school in Kiryas Joel could be made to pay up to $61 million in fines for allowing students to attend school unvaccinated, recently revealed information suggests.

According to a document that first surfaced on social media and which the New York State Department of Health confirmed to Shtetl as authentic, the Satmar Aaronite school, UTA of Kiryas Joel - Markowitz Boys, allowed 121 unvaccinated students to attend school from July 2022 to March 2023, the document said. The letter was addressed to Chaim Kornbluh, the school’s administrator, with a hearing scheduled for Feb. 14. It is unclear whether the hearing took place as scheduled or what the outcome was.

One of two document images, confirmed as authentic by the DOH
One of two document images, confirmed as authentic by the DOH

In total, the students were allowed to attend school for 194 school days, during which there were 255 calendar days, the document says. Every time an unvaccinated student goes to school, it is considered a violation of state law, and each violation carries a maximum penalty of $2,000, the documents says. Depending on whether the state measures the penalty using school days or calendar days, the school could be asked to pay $46 million or $61 million.

According to state law, “No principal, teacher, owner or person in charge of a school shall permit any child to be admitted to such school, or to attend such school, in excess of fourteen days” without evidence that the child has all received all vaccinations that children are required to have in order to attend school.

The DOH audited more schools last year than usual. Months ago, leaders of a Kiryas Joel school associated with Satmar’s Zalmanite faction exhorted parents to vaccinate their children, according to Shtetl’s reporting at the time.

“We’re pleading with parents, please know that to be up-to-date with immunization when you register your children for the new school year is just as important as paying tuition,” school officials wrote in a letter that was published in Vochnshrift, a Kiryas Joel newspaper affiliated with the Zalmanites. “We’ve suffered heavy consequences when the DOH came down and things weren’t adding up,” they said.

“Immunization is one of the most important actions a parent can take to protect their child’s health,” Erin Clary, a spokesperson for the DOH, wrote in an email to Shtetl. “Every year, babies and children still get sick and die from illnesses that vaccines could have prevented, such as the flu, measles, meningitis, and pertussis (whooping cough). Vaccinations help make a child’s immune system strong so they can fight disease.”

In 2019, during an outbreak of measles in New York’s Haredi communities, the New York City Health Department found that several Haredi schools were allowing unvaccinated students to attend, including students with active contagious measles infections. The city also shut down a Satmar preschool that would not share immunization records with the government. Later that year, then-governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill ending religious exemptions for vaccines.

Neither UTA of Kiryas Joel nor its attorney provided comment for this article.