Health

Yeshiva leaders mandate immunization after state penalized them for noncompliance

“To be up to date with immunization when you register your children for the new school year is just as important as paying tuition,” wrote leaders of one yeshiva

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Sep 4, 2023 9:05 AM

Updated: 

Following an audit from the New York State Department of Health in which “things weren’t adding up,” a Kiryas Joel yeshiva is exhorting parents to have their children immunized ahead of the new school year.

“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,” wrote leaders of Mosdos Satmar V’Yoel Moshe, a school affiliated with the Zalmanite faction of the Satmar Hasidic sect. “We cannot, under any circumstances, accept a child who is not up to date.” The yeshiva leaders’ letter was published in the Aug. 25 issue of Kiryas Joel Weekly, a Yiddish-language newspaper serving the mostly Satmar village’s Zalmanite community.

“We’ve suffered heavy consequences when the DOH came down and things weren’t adding up,” the letter explains.

The health department conducted more audits last school year than usual, and audited a wide array of private and public schools, according to an article published in Lohud in February. Nearly half of the schools audited, including non-Haredi public and private schools, required some sort of corrective action. According to data obtained by Lohud through the Freedom of Information Law, four Haredi schools in Orange and Rockland counties received the most severe designation: “largely out of compliance.”

The four that were “largely out of compliance” were the Satmar school Central UTA of Monsey - Boys, Cheder Chabad of Monsey - Girls, Congregation Mesifta Ohr Hatalmud in New Windsor, and the Satmar school Sheri Torah - Forest near Kiryas Joel. Two additional Satmar schools – UTA of Kiryas Joel and Sheri Torah Inc. - Goldberger – got a slightly different designation “students shown to be out of compliance.”

“If schools are found to be out of compliance, they are advised to immediately exclude those students from school and notify the family of necessary immunizations,” said Erin Clary, a spokesperson for the DOH.

In emails to Shtetl, Clary said that five schools audited “in or around” Orange and Rockland counties found noncompliant schools, but declined to name the schools, reconcile her number with Lohud reporting, or say how many of the schools she counted were Haredi yeshivas.

“Recent New York State Department of Health (DOH) school immunization audits in or around Rockland and Orange Counties found that a significant number of students were permitted to attend school without having received all required doses of vaccines in order to attend or remain in school,” Clary wrote. “Three of these matters were settled with the schools having acknowledged the violations, and agreeing to take corrective action and pay fines. Two of these matters are currently scheduled for hearing in the fall.”

In NYC, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene handles school immunization audits.

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.

“Immunization is one of the most important actions a parent can take to protect their child’s health,” Clary said. “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.”

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.