EDITORIAL: Surveys alone shouldn’t decide school vaccine policy

Ellie Cabrera Bruce, 9, of Rotterdam, prepares herself for a COVID vaccine shot administered by registered nurse Caitlyn Poleto at the Schenectady Inner City Ministry location on Albany Street in 2021.

Ellie Cabrera Bruce, 9, of Rotterdam, prepares herself for a COVID vaccine shot administered by registered nurse Caitlyn Poleto at the Schenectady Inner City Ministry location on Albany Street in 2021.

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In a representative democracy, we elect our officials to use their knowledge, perspective, good judgment and connection to the community to help make the right decisions for their constituents.

If we let polls and surveys make policies, we would lose the benefit of the collective input of our elected leaders, and quite possibly still not get the policies that best serve the citizens.

A decision by the Duanesburg school board not to survey parents about their thoughts on COVID vaccine mandates for students has brought this conflict to a head.

The board voted 5-2 last week not to survey parents in the district and not to send a letter to state lawmakers taking a position on the issue.

But the decision is not the anti-citizen, head-in-the-sand gesture some residents might believe it is.

For starters, the decision on COVID vaccine mandates for schools will not be made at the school board level.

It will be made at the state and federal level, and school districts will have to abide by whatever decision comes down from above.

One bill pending in the state Assembly, A2178, would require immunization against COVID for attendance at school, as well as require the state health commissioner to develop a program of immunization and supervision for the purposes of state aid to schools.

But the state mandate, according to the bill text, would first require full approval of a vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and adoption of the vaccine for recommended immunization schedules by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

The bill doesn’t yet have a Senate sponsor, so there’s no telling when it could even get passed. And with the federal requirements, there’s no telling when or if districts would be required to implement it.

Citizens seeking a survey are correct that school board members should always be cognizant of what their constituents want. But the implication from some is that if a survey reaches a particular conclusion, the school board members must do whatever the results say.

That removes the decision-making power from the elected board members, which negates the votes of the people who put them in office.

As we said earlier, we really don’t want our elected officials deciding important matters based solely on polls and surveys.

One big problem with relying on surveys to dictate policy — especially surveys not prepared by professional survey companies — is that the results are likely to be incomplete and unreliable.

Questions can be skewed in such a way as to promote a certain response. That’s why polling companies have experts evaluate their questions for bias.

Then there’s the question about the people responding.

Any survey is going to be a representative sample, but the results might not be representative of the affected body as a whole. The results can depend on who was sent the survey and who responded.

The people who are more likely to complete such a survey are those who feel strongly about an issue. And in the case of vaccines and vaccine mandates, that’s likely to be the people who are against them.

If the board relies on a result heavily influenced by anti-vaxxers to oppose a vaccine mandate for students, the result might not only inaccurately reflect what the majority of district residents actually want, but could jeopardize the health of students and staff.

A survey also sets up unrealistic expectations.

Those who fill out the survey are going to expect the board to act on the results.

A survey can certainly be a tool in evaluating public opinion.

But it should be complemented by other methods of evaluating public opinion, such as personal conversations with different constituencies within the district (parents and staff, government officials, health professionals); emails and written comments; and comments made at public meetings.

The results of any public input should then be considered collectively against state and federal policies, current science on vaccinations, and the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing the spread and virulence of the virus among children and adults in schools.

If members of the Duanesburg Board of Education don’t feel as if a survey will help their particular district, or if they feel it could prompt divisions within the school community that are counterproductive to a frank discussion about the proposal, they should probably not do one.

School boards in other districts may reach a different conclusion and that’s fine, too.

But if Duanesburg officials do ultimately feel pressured by their constituents to conduct a survey, they need to convey very clearly to the people that it will only be used for advisement, not as the sole determiner of the final district policy.

As always, if voters don’t like the way any school board reaches its conclusions or don’t feel as if their actions reflect the will of the people, they always have the ultimate option — to vote them out of office.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion


Bill Marincic

I have spoken to at least 20 parents who said they would homeschool or join a homeschool co-op rather than give their kids the vaccine, that in itself is lots of states and federal aid money going to public schools. The vaccines have already been proven not to stop covid and it has also been proven that it rarely affects children so my question would be why?

Mr. Waite, you’re absolutely spot on.

This is a matter of public health and crosses school district, and state boundaries. It is a job for our elected officials based on science, and we in the US can be proud to have the finest scientific resources in the world, who work in concert with the rest of the world’s scientific bodies.

Obviously we have a very loud minority who’ll claim, “well, all my friends say…” but that’s not reality, it’s someone’s limited circle of influence and must not dictate for the rest of us.

Bill Marincic

Actually, it’s not my limited friends, you might want to check the multitudes of Facebook groups against the vaccine for students. It’s all about control with the left.

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