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NEW YORK — Shouting and cursing anti-vaccination spectators were cleared from the City Council chambers during an Education Committee hearing on Wednesday as lawmakers discussed school reopening plans.

Councilman Mark Treyger, who heads the committee, ordered the sergeant-at-arms to clear out the spectators after they shouted down Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi and others, repeatedly.

Students are set to return to New York City classrooms for in-person learning in under two weeks.

The New York City Department of Education has issued a reopening guide for families, and the hearing, which lasted more than four hours, was meant to address questions that councilmembers and families had had since the guide was released last Thursday.  

The hearing was also convened to allow new questions regarding reopening to be answered.

Among the issues discussed by the chancellor, other DOE leaders and the health commissioner was vaccinations, for schools’ faculty and staff, as well as for students. Chancellor Porter began her presentation with an announcement on the issue.

“During the first week of school,” she said, “every single school that has students ages 12 and up will have a vaccination site in the building.”  

It’s part of the city’s attempt to promote vaccinations in an effort to lower infections. There is a need.  Children age 5 to 17 have the highest rates of COVID infection in the city right now, according to the Department of Health.  

COVID Testing

The man who runs the health department, Dr. Chokshi, was asked about COVID testing in schools, during the testimony. 

The city’s reopening guide says that 10 percent of unvaccinated students will be tested every two weeks. That’s a sharp contrast to the 20 percent of students tested weekly last spring.

Also, this school year, parents can opt their students out of testing. Those developments were met with skepticism by council members.

“If there are adjustments that need to be made as time goes on, of course we will make those calibrations,” Chokshi said in response.

Remote Option

Statements like that, which indicate that the city’s schools can change their approach as conditions ahead dictate, was a theme of the testimony, including when the issue of a remote learning option for students was discussed.

The Education Committee chair, Mark Treyger, asked the chancellor about it, and noted that other cities’ school districts had included a remote option because their so-called “everyone back” in classes strategies quickly encountered spiking COVID rates.

“New York City has and will continue to be the gold standard, but we’re watching other cities that have offered a remote option,” the schools chancellor said in response.

She seemed even more willing to consider the remote option when questioned about it about 90 minutes later.

“[Because] we’re not offering a remote option,” she said, “it doesn’t mean we’re not prepared to go remote if we need to.”

“If [Covid] cases rise, we can switch and do that,” Ross Porter said. 

Ejected Protesters Missed Opportunity to Speak

Like all public hearings, there was time allotted for public comment, but the protesters’ multiple interruptions resulted in them being ejected before the public comment period began. 

Councilman Mark Levine, who heads the Health Committee, said many of the spectators were anti-vaxxers.

“We are not letting this derail us,” he said. “NYC will offer student vaccination (with parent/guardian permission) in all middle and high schools first week of school.”

He said the anti-vaccination and anti-mask protestors shared a “stunning amount of garbage.”

“Science is under assault, including in New York City,” he said. “We can’t take this fight for granted.”