DOE tempting PTAs with cash to push COVID vaccine

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It beats a bake sale.

The city’s Parent-Teacher Associations could hit the jackpot — if they can get people jabbed.

The Department of Education is pushing PTAs and Parent Associations to use the new “vaccine referral bonus” program, which pays out $100 to the groups for each person who cites them while getting vaccinated at a city-run site.

To get the cash — up to $20,000 — a person scheduling their first vaccine shot can identify the PTA or other group that referred them in an online form. A $100 “referral credit” will be given when the person gets their shot, with the funds paid out to the groups once the program ends.

“Help your community, raise money for your PA/PTA!” the DOE said in a July 28 email to parent and parent-teacher associations touting the dough.

Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out the city’s “referral bonus” program in June. Under the deal, the city will pay pre-approved organizations for each person the groups refer for a first vaccination dose. Churches, advocacy groups and social-service providers, along with parent associations and PTAs, can sign up.

But some educators are wary of the cash carrot, fearful it might sow mistrust in lower-income neighborhoods, where PTAs are often cash-strapped and vax rates are lagging behind tonier, more-vaccinated sections of the city.

“Seems a bit like bribery,” one Bronx teacher told The Post. “No one wanted to be blamed for pushing the vaccine, and using the trust they earned with parents, the political capital they have, in this way.”

“It seems like a conflict of interest. Is it really the PTA’s place?” asked another teacher, based in Queens. “But I also want to get money for the school, so I’m torn.”

Several Bronx parents told The Post that, while they support vaccination, $100 per arm felt patronizing.

“People might feel tricked,” said Sandra DeJesus, a mother of three Bronx public school students. She wants “everybody” in school to be immunized, but the money added an element of “distrust.”

Gina Ramos, a public-school mom and member of the Bronx’s Community Education Council 8, told The Post she knows parents who “feel they’re being paid off and bought off, just to basically be a sheep and follow the herd.”

“Not necessarily my personal opinion, but I know that’s what some parents are feeling,” she added.

“There’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy in the Bronx,” said Farah Despeignes, president of the Bronx Parent Leaders Advocacy Group, which has also pushed for a remote-education option this fall.

Amy Tsai, a Bronx mother with five kids in public school, told The Post the program was the city “trying to put a pacifier in a parent’s mouth.”

With Delta-variant cases “rocketing,” she said the program provided a pretext for a faster-than-wise reopening.

“For underserved communities, it’s hard to fundraise,” she said. “But this is not the way to give incentives.”

“There’s no dignity,” Tsai added.

Jean Hahn, a Queens mother with one child in public school, told The Post: “Leaning on parents is kind of a smart way to encourage people to get vaccinated, though I don’t like that they’re spending our taxpayer money to pay for it.”

It’s not clear how many PTAs have registered for the program. And it’s also unclear if blowback to the program has reached the DOE.

But a DOE website promoting the program, which was online as of July 28, appeared to have been taken down this week.

“Vaccinations are our passport out of this pandemic, and we are getting the word out every way we can about the importance of getting eligible people and students vaccinated. We are alerting PA/PTA groups that they qualify under the City’s optional referral bonus program, and they can participate to receive $100 for every vaccinated person who names their PTA as the referring organization,” DOE rep Nathaniel Styer said.

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