As school districts continue to grapple with proposed mask mandates for students and other issues related to the reopening of schools in the coming days and weeks, officials in the Palisades School District in Bucks County are also winning praise for their response to COVID-19, which has included hosting vaccination clinics for students and staff.
Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Dr. Noe Ortega and Executive Deputy Secretary Dr. Deb Carrera visited the rural school district Thursday, where they spoke with educators and community partners about the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine prior to the start of the school year, according to a news release about the visit.
The first day of school for Palisades students is Monday, Aug. 30, while most teachers will return to their classrooms for in-service days beginning Monday, Aug. 23.
Not all have been fully absent from school grounds since June, as Palisades Middle School held a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for students, staff, and community members in July, which was followed by a second dose COVID-19 vaccination clinic held Thursday.
“As communities across the commonwealth prepare for a new school year, we must work together to create healthy and safe conditions for our students, teachers, and staff now and in the future,” Ortega said. “We commend the Palisades School District and their community partners for their efforts to offer eligible school children and families the COVID-19 vaccine this summer before the new school year begins.”
The COVID vaccine is currently available to children who are 12 and older, and both the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have recommended since May that minors who meet the age criterion be vaccinated.
Many parents remain vaccine-hesitant, and in most states a minor can’t receive a vaccine without parental permission. In July, the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics (JAMA) published a piece in which it endorsed waiving that requirement.
“Children and adolescents have the capacity to understand and reason about low-risk and high-benefit health care interventions,” the JAMA article stated. “State laws should therefore authorize minors to consent to COVID-19 vaccination without parental permission.”
According to the latest New York Times vaccination data, in Pennsylvania 53 percent of eligible 12 to 17-year-olds have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is slightly higher than the national average of 49 percent. Pennsylvania ranks 19th among all 50 states in terms of the percentage of minors who have had at least one shot. The state’s adult vaccination rates are somewhat higher, with approximately 81 percent of Keystone State adults having received at least one dose and roughly 65 percent fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times data. Pennsylvania ranks 10th in the nation for adults who have received at least one dose, but lower for adults who are fully vaccinated.
At the county level, in Bucks County 58 percent of all residents are currently fully vaccinated, while 67 percent of individuals 12 and older are fully vaccinated. This puts the county in between the Lehigh Valley counties of Northampton and Lehigh to its north:
Percentage of Fully Vaccinated Residents*
- Lehigh County
All residents: 59 percent
Ages 12 and up: 69 percent
- Northampton County
All residents: 54 percent
Ages 12 and up: 62 percent
Palisades previously hosted a two-dose Pfizer vaccination clinic for children 12 and over as well as district faculty and staff members in May and June, according to COVID-19 information on the district’s website. All students who were vaccinated were required to supply a signed parental consent form before receiving their first shot.
“I value the support that the Palisades School District has received throughout this pandemic from our local school community, including parents, students, teachers, staff, administrators and school board, as well as the resources and guidance provided by our county, state and federal partners,” said district superintendent Bridget O’Connell, in the state’s news release about Thursday’s visit. “During the 2020-2021 school year, all Palisades buildings remained open for face-to-face learning, five days a week, and we also provided a quality online learning option. We enjoyed so many outstanding academic, athletic and extracurricular achievements by our students last year, which demonstrates the true strength and resiliency of this community and the power of partnerships.”
“I would like to thank our county, state and federal partners in education for providing the resources necessary for Palisades to deliver an excellent education to our students that promotes their safety and well-being,” she added. “Those resources include funding to support both the hiring of additional staff to support our cyberlearning option and additional learning opportunities for students, funding to support facilities upgrades, as well as the county and state support to run vaccine clinics in our school buildings.”
Approximately 1,500 students are enrolled in the Palisades School District, which draws from the borough of Riegelsville and the townships of Springfield, Durham, Tinicum, Nockamixon and Bridgeton.
Photos below courtesy of Commonwealth Media Services