Parents opposed to strict new state rules on school vaccinations held their first local demonstration on Long Island on Monday afternoon, as the ban on unvaccinated children going to school began taking effect across the region and state.
About two dozen parents, most dressed in white as a sign of solidarity, gathered at 2:30 p.m. outside Lloyd Harbor Elementary School as students emerged from classes. Some children will not be returning Tuesday, as the result of a new state law eliminating waivers for families that object to inoculations on religious grounds.
The change in law, which took effect immediately after it was signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on June 13, came amid the worst measles outbreak in the nation in 27 years — with many of the cases occurring in New York State and concentrated in Brooklyn and Rockland County. At the time of the bill-signing, Cuomo noted that 96 percent of school-age children statewide already were inoculated against measles, mumps and rubella.
An estimated 26,000 students statewide, including as many as 4,000 in Nassau and Suffolk counties, had been covered by the religious exemption in the past. With the exemption now expiring, parents still refusing the vaccination route find themselves with little alternative except to try educating their children at home.
In observation of the new law, school districts had informed parents before the start of the new academic year that they would be required to arrange vaccinations within 14 days of the start of school.
"It's a desperate situation with kids not able to attend school," said one Lloyd Harbor parent, Ken Chapey, 56, who owns a funeral business. The father added that he and his wife, Maureen, who until this week served as vice president of the elementary school's Parent Teacher Group, equivalent to a PTA, continue to oppose inoculations for their own children.
Outside the elementary school, the Chapeys embraced their two daughters, Jane, 11, and Frances, 7. A half-dozen news reporters, photographers and television crew members stood nearby.
Jane Chapey, a sixth-grader, told reporters that a dozen friends had joined her for lunch in school that day, while also presenting her with a signed farewell card.
"I'm kind of hoping to go back to school," she said.
For the most part, parent demonstrators stood quietly on the opposite side of the street from Lloyd Harbor school, chatting among themselves or gathering to applaud emerging students.
At one point, three Lloyd Harbor Village police cars lined the street outside the school, and one officer directed parents to move off a sidewalk so students could pass on their way home. There were no vocal protests or disturbances.
The Lloyd Harbor school is part of the Cold Spring Harbor system, which serves about 1,760 students in affluent communities straddling the northern Nassau-Suffolk border. Parents gathered Monday outside the classic brick school building said they knew of at least six local students removed from classes due to lack of vaccinations.
The district superintendent, Robert Fenter, said through a secretary that the district would not comment on the situation.
Local parents affected by the ban described the experience as intensely painful.
"Hell absolute hell," said Paris Pappas, 43, whose three daughters, ages 14, 12 and 6, have all left their classes and whom she expects to home school. "We're just watching everybody else's school life go on, and my life has stopped, basically."
A regional leader of the parent-protest movement, Rita Palma of Blue Point, said most districts across this Island would in all likelihood experience student expulsions within the next several days.
"The 14th day is hitting virtually every school district on Long Island this week," Palma said.