Around 3,000 New York City teachers have asked for medical and religious exemptions from the city’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, according to the city’s teachers union.
The city requires all school staff to be vaccinated or exempted by midnight on Sept. 27. The union, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) said on Sept. 24 that 90-95 percent of teachers have received the vaccine. That would leave about 4,000-8,000 unvaccinated, including those who have asked for the exemption.
The exemptions are largely medical, UFT President Michael Mulgrew told reporters during a Sept. 24 teleconference. He didn’t specify how many have been granted. Those rejected have an option to appeal, but Mulgrew said he didn’t know how many have done so.
With a pending appeal, a teacher can’t participate in instruction, but gets exempted from the mandate, which requires those unvaccinated after the deadline to either leave their jobs with a severance package or take unpaid leave.
Given the city’s total of some 78,000 teachers, about 4 percent have asked for exemptions.
Both Mulgrew and Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, warned that the mandate deadline could cause staffing shortages, despite the city’s assurances that there will be enough substitutes.
“Principals and superintendents have been reaching out consistently to tell us that they are concerned about not having enough staff come Tuesday morning,” Cannizzaro said during the teleconference.
The blamed the city administration for a lack of advanced planning and suggested the city should allow unvaccinated staffers to still come to work for as long as it’s needed to resolve staffing issues at their individual schools.
“Until there’s a plan to make sure schools are safe, we need to reevaluate what we’re doing going forward,” Cannizzaro said.
They also criticized the city for putting the deadline on Monday, leaving schools in a position where they may learn on Monday night, they need a substitute for somebody the following morning.
“Who’s the genius who decided to do it on a Monday by midnight?” Mulgrew said.
Cannizzaro suggested a better way would have been to place the deadline before the start of the school year, before a holiday, or before a long weekend.
“Perhaps we would have had enough time to make contingency plans to be ready to welcome students,” he said.
The municipal workers union has been fighting the mandate in court and initially managed to get it put on hold. But the court lifted the restraining order on Sept. 23.
“This case has already led to progress in protecting the rights of our members, since the city—in the wake of the court’s initial issuance of the restraining order—admitted that there can be exceptions to the vaccine mandate,” Municipal Labor Committee Chair Harry Nespoli said in a Sept. 22 statement.
“The court—while lifting the restraining order—has not made a final decision, and we are preparing additional material to support our case.”
The city explained the mandate as a way to reduce risk posed by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, as well as to prevent school closures due to outbreaks. It imposed a slew of other restrictions including mandatory masks for both students and staff, 3-foot distancing between students when possible, and biweekly random testing (among students whose parents consented). The testing frequency was increased to weekly upon UFT’s request. Based on the rules, one student testing positive could lead to the whole class being relegated to remote learning for 7-10 days, regardless of whether the others test positive of not. Schools have also nixed supposedly riskier activities such as indoor eating and extracurriculars like choir, band, and sports.
Many have opposed the rules, questioning why children, who are at low risk of getting serious symptoms from COVID-19, are being forced to wear masks all day while celebrities and politicians have been seen attending numerous events maskless.