The largest school district in the United States, which serves New York City, announced Aug. 24 that it will require all New York City teachers to receive COVID-19 vaccines for the upcoming school year.
According to Reuters, the mandate — announced by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio — affects all 148,000 staff members in the school district. All staff members must now get at least one dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27. In a departure from prior employee policies affecting the city’s workers, the Department of Education staff will no longer be able to submit to weekly testing instead of getting vaccines.
“We want our schools to be extraordinarily safe all year long,” de Blasio said, addressing the potential danger of nearly a million students going back to NYC schools starting Sept. 13 as case rates rise throughout the U.S.
The New York Times reported that, while the mandate only affects city workers in schools for now, it may usher in “a broader vaccine mandate for city workers, including police officers, which the mayor said the city was considering.”
The publication noted that close to 70% of New York City adults are fully vaccinated, and cited city officials reporting that more than 63% of all Department of Education employees are vaccinated, not including those vaccinated outside New York City. Nearly three in four teachers living in New York City have received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared to just 43% of Police Department employees who have been vaccinated.
While many teachers were happy with the announcement, not all were in agreement with the new policy, the Times went on to report.
“You’re telling me now I have to remove my right” to decide whether to be vaccinated, Carlotta Pope, a high school English teacher in Brooklyn who has not yet received a vaccine, said. “Me personally, I won’t be a part of that.” Pope said that while she is considering meeting de Blasio’s mandate, she is also considering transferring to a school district where she won’t need to get vaccinated to keep teaching.
Gothamist found both parents and teachers welcoming the news. “As a New York City public school parent, I am thrilled with the new vaccine mandate for all public school staff,” Robin Morris, who has a middle schooler in the NYC school system, said. “This mandate makes me feel safer for my kid and her school community.”
“Good news, finally,” elementary school teacher Liat Olenick added via tweet. “As an immunocompromised transplant recipient teaching unvaccinated kids, this makes me feel safer and will make kids safer.”
The announcement is prompting the Municipal Labor Committee, an organization that represents 350,000 city workers, to threaten legal action. This could force the city to negotiate details of implementation, including penalties and medical exceptions.
“Our members’ bargaining rights in this situation must be preserved,” Harry Nespoli, president of the MLC, said. While a teachers’ union and a school workers’ union showed support for the mandate, they did express concerns about how absolute it appears to be.
“The one thing I want to negotiate is individuals who have a legitimate reason from their doctors why they can’t be vaccinated,” Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents nearly 5,000 school safety agents, school aides, and food service managers, said. “Everybody should be able to consult their doctor and be comfortable.”