How Will it Affect Our Children? Agudath Israel Responds to Proposed Changes in the NYC Health Code

Photo Credits: Lisa S./

It could be a parent’s nightmare.

You send your 4-year-old off happily to school in the morning. Mid-day, you get the call, “School is closed until further notice because of a broken window.” Mild annoyance and surprise turn into dismay as it takes days or weeks for school to reopen.

Because of one broken window.

Impossible? Maybe not.

That’s exactly the type of situation, among others, that Mrs. Deborah Zachai, Agudah Director of Education Affairs, and Mr. Ami Bazov, Agudath Israel Coordinator of Education Affairs, are concerned about.

This past week, Mr. Bazov and Mrs. Zachai individually responded to proposed amendments to Articles 43 and 49 of the NYC Health Code, respectively.

In both cases, well-intentioned changes may do more harm than good to our children’s health.

Article 43

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) recently proposed several changes to Article 43 of the NYC Health Code, regulating school-based programs for children ages three through five.

Agudath Israel is concerned about a proposed amendment to Article 43, which give Board inspectors sweeping power to close school facilities in case of an “imminent or public health hazard.”

Mr. Bazov expressed his concerns when he testified last week. “We feel that these proposed changes are vague, overly broad, internally inconsistent, and do not give schools the proper opportunity to be heard before a school is closed.”

Since the health hazards are not specified and the schools’ due process is not protected, Agudath Israel fears situations such as the fictional broken window above. The proposed change could leave children out of school and vulnerable, instead of protecting them.

Article 49

Article 49 of the Health Code contains rules pertaining to schools. The DOHMH proposed that the Board of Health amend Article 49 with regulations for a school nurse’s office.

The list of proposed new requirements includes:

  • square footage requirements for the nursing area
  • a bathroom internal or adjacent to the medical room
  • equipment such as a refrigerator, exam table, and more
  • and many other regulations

Many yeshivos already have a school nurse attending to the health needs of the student body. However, they often don’t have the space, and certainly not the out of pocket funds, to renovate the buildings to conform with the new requirements for the nurse’s office.

As Mrs. Zachai wrote in her comments on the proposed amendments, “If these regulations are adopted, many of our schools will not be able to provide nursing services as they have in the past. The bottom line is that students will be left without a medical professional in their building, leading to the diminishment of health and safety services to nonpublic school students in our City.”

Moving Forward

The good news is that the DOHMH is listening. Mr. Bazov reports that when he spoke to DOHMH staffers at the hearing, they were receptive to Agudah’s concerns.

Agudath Israel will continue to reach out to the NYC Department of Health. Mrs. Zachai explains that “we want to ensure that any new amendments enhance the health and safety of children attending ALL schools in New York City, including yeshivos and other nonpublic schools.”