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New York middle school play praises COVID vaccines, says unvaxxed kids won't have friends

Children appear to be dressed as QAnon Shaman, box of cigarettes in skit apparently mocking conservative caricatures as well.

Published: February 9, 2022 8:10pm

Updated: February 10, 2022 10:34pm

A New York City public school put on a holiday show in which 5th-8th graders sang "It's safe to vax and if your friends don't vax then they ain't no friends of mine," according to a mother who attended and shared her recordings with Just the News.

While the singing is hard to understand, the visual elements make clear the children at the Upper West Side's M.S. 243 Center School are being taught to celebrate COVID-19 vaccines and single out unvaccinated peers

Antigone Michaelides said her son knew "two or three" such peers in December's Theater Arts at The Center School (TACS) show, written by teachers, in which student participation is mandatory. New York City does not require public schoolchildren to be vaccinated against COVID.

One video shows children holding signs for Pfizer and Moderna and singing a parody of the Men Without Hats song "Safety Dance," which includes the parallel lyric "your friends don't dance, and if they don't dance, well they're no friends of mine."

Her husband David Porter said another recording captures the lyric "Don't vax if you want to, if you don't nobody will" ("We can act if we want to, if we don't nobody will").

Another video shows two children holding signs reading "I fear God not COVID" and "I am not a science experiment," apparently referring to families who have religious or medical objections to COVID vaccines. It's not clear what they're singing.

Other children appear to be dressed as conservative caricatures: a box of Kool cigarettes, a man in fatigues with an American flag, Napoleon Bonaparte and the so-called QAnon shaman Jacob Chansley, who was sentenced to 41 months in prison for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

A member of the New York activist group Parents Protecting Childhood, Michaelides went public with her accusations in a tweet thread Friday. She shared other details about the enthusiasm of the "indoctrinated audience," nearly all of whom "cheered and clapped."

Michaelides and Porter gave Just the News their letter sent late Monday to District 3 Superintendent Christine Loughlin and Michelle Chang, New York City Department of Education (DOE) senior specialist liaison. 

It includes many more allegations about December's show, which allegedly repurposed the Peanuts "meaning of Christmas" scene with Allen Ginsburg's poem "Howl," an ode to the pagan god Moloch.

The parents know the Ginsberg reference but "still question the appropriateness of associating Christmas with a god to whom children were sacrificed" under the DOE's "inclusivity goals," they wrote.

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The couple spoke with Just the News in a video call Wednesday after a virtual meeting with Superintendent Loughlin, who they say promised to refer the matter to a "special commissioner of investigation."

The parents have enjoyed previous TACS performances, one of which included an octopus and pirate ship, but they were shocked by this one, which they estimated 200-300 people saw in afternoon and evening shows.

"We sat on this for a while because I didn't know whether I wanted to make a big deal out of it," Michaelides said. "We're in this enclave of very homogeneous views." 

Porter said he was bemused that the PTA diversity officer introduced a show that marginalized students. The program didn't have credits so they don't know which teachers wrote the skits.

"We don't want The Center School to burn to the ground," Michaelides said, emphasizing they are "lifelong Democrats" who marched against the Iraq war. But the couple has become increasingly disenchanted with the school's response to COVID.

Loughlin and Chang did not respond to queries from Just the News. Neither did Center School Principal Elaine Schwartz, with whom the parents have previously butted heads.

'Mockery clearly the objective'

The school previously told families that one in five of its students were not vaccinated against COVID, according to the couple's letter to Loughlin and Chang.

The Men Without Hats parody "makes vaccination a precondition for friendship," discriminating against the play's own members and putting their parents "in a difficult position," they wrote.

"Mockery was clearly the objective" in the skit, with children holding anti-vaccine signs, they wrote. "How is it acceptable for a teacher, or teachers, to promote an agenda which encourages some children to turn against other children at the same school?" 

One explanation, they surmise, is that the skits' writers assumed they would have a "friendly audience" because TACS explicitly limited attendance to "masked and vaccinated" people, and Michaelides said everyone had to show a vaccine card or the state's Excelsior Pass.

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The mother told Just the News that Superintendent Loughlin had responded quickly to their last brouhaha with The Center School under Principal Schwartz.

Against DOE policy, it had required unvaccinated students to test negative for COVID after a single student tested positive in December. The school quickly backed off after Michaelides publicly objected, and Schwartz asked parents to "disregard" the protocol she invented. 

The previous school year, according to emails reviewed by Just the News, the principal justified a double-masking mandate based on "a parent who is a science researcher at Columbia."

When a parent using a pseudonymous email account asked for Schwartz's authority to override the CDC and DOE, the principal responded that "an anonymous person hacked into our community correspondence."  

Michaelides and Porter's son also complained last spring that he was reprimanded for eating Skittles outside because he wasn't wearing a mask. Teachers are "constantly reminding kids to follow the new rules" for their "safety," a teacher responded in an email.

The U.S. Department of Education told Just the News it "cannot offer an opinion about specific factual circumstances, as they relate to compliance with federal civil rights laws, without first conducting an investigation," though individuals can file complaints at the following links. Michaelides said the couple is not filing a federal complaint, however.

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