Photos by Jenna Bagcal/QNS
Protesters in Bayside argued against John Liu's vote to ban religious exemptions for vaccinations

Bayside parents rallied against a local lawmaker’s decision relating to vaccinations for families with religious exemptions, which they said resulted in their children being kicked out of school for the upcoming year.

The parents, who staged a protest outside Senator John Liu’s reelection campaign at One Station Plaza bar last Tuesday, said that the senator voted in the affirmative for a bill that would repeal all “non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for children.”

Both the Assembly and Senate supported the bill, which Governor Cuomo signed into law back in June. Parents of children who were previously exempt from vaccines due to religious beliefs said that they met with the senator “both at his local office and in Albany numerous times to beg him to stand up for our children, especially those who are disabled.”

According to the parents, the new law means that 26,000 unvaccinated students in New York state — about 0.5 percent of all students in the state — will no longer be exempt from vaccines due to religious beliefs. Parents said that many of the affected children are disabled and receive Individual Education Plans (IEP) which include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and special education.

Now, following the June 13 Senate vote, many of these students have been kicked out of their schools — and parents alleged that Liu is one to blame.

They argued not only that the bill encroached on their religious freedoms, but also that it “discriminated” against certain students with disabilities, as IEP is mandated at the state and federal level.

According to the Department of Education website, there are 13 disability classifications that qualify students for IEP. These include autism, deafness, learning disabilities, orthopedic disabilities and traumatic brain injuries.

“I have a disabled child. We met with John Liu on several occasions. He posed for pictures with us, he listened to our concerns — or so we thought. And then the morning of the vote, he voted against us,” said Bonnie Skala Kiladitis, whose son’s IEP is federally mandated. “We’re just concerned about this because he was elected to represent us and he did not do that.”

Kiladitis added that federally mandated IEP should override state law, which only took “about seven hours” to be voted in by the Assembly and Senate and signed into law by the governor.

John Liu defends position to constituents

According to Michael, who did not provide his last name, said that “thousands” of disabled children were kicked out of schools “30 days after the bill was passed.” The educator, who has been working with disabled individuals for the past 17 years, said that the California government did not force children out of schools following the passage of a similar bill.

Liu showed up during the course of the rally and defended his position to the crowd of protesters.

“I met with you as many times as you wanted. I took in your information, I considered it very carefully against all the other information that I was provided with,” said Liu. “I do have some confidence in the medical profession and the city [and state] Departments of Health.”

Later on, QNS spoke with Liu at his reelection event, where he elaborated further on his affirmative vote.

“I’m not for government forcing parents to do things with their kids unless the kids are going to school where many other children could potentially be affected,” Liu said. “It’s not just about measles. When you go to public school, there’s a variety of vaccines that are required by public schools.”

But for parents like Kiladitis and others at the rally, the bill is a violation of Constitutional rights.

“You can’t go against First Amendment rights. People like my family are never gonna change our faith and what happens now is, kids are kicked out of school. It’s wrong,” she said.

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