The NYC public school COVID-19 vaccine mandates

And why some city teachers unions have been pushing back.

A vacant New York City public school classroom.

A vacant New York City public school classroom. WoodysPhotos/Shutterstock

On Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all workers at pre-kindergarten, child care and afterschool programs that have contracts with the city will be required to get vaccinated.

“These are folks who do incredibly important work, who families depend on, kids depend on. We need them to be safe,” de Blasio said at a press conference.

This decision follows the city’s decision to mandate all public teachers and school employees to get vaccinated on Aug. 23. This was an amendment to the city’s initial announcement in July, which stated that all city employees, such as teachers and first responders, would be required to get vaccinated or be subjected to weekly COVID-19 testing. Now all 148,000 Department of Education workers will be expected to have at least one vaccination shot by the time the city’s schools reopen on Monday.

While the city’s mandates follow recent guidance provided by public health experts, especially when teachers and school employees are working with children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, some of the city’s teachers unions have been pushing back against these new requirements. 

After the city’s announcement that all school workers would need to be vaccinated in late August, The United Federation of Teachers filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board that argued that the city did not give consideration to teachers who are unable to be vaccinated because of medical or religious reasons. 

“While the city is asserting its legal authority to establish this mandate, there are many implementation details, including provisions for medical exceptions, that by law must be negotiated with the UFT and other unions, and if necessary, resolved by arbitration,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement, following the city’s updated mandate.

However, following the UFT’s formal complaint, the city decided on Wednesday, that it would give an exemption to school employees who are unable to get the vaccine for medical or religious reasons. The city, however, still expects to have “intense” conversations with the union over other employees who refuse to be inoculated. “We’re obviously hoping to resolve things,” de Blasio said. “But not every single one has been settled yet and we obviously have to do that very, very quickly.”

Other cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as Washington have also enforced a vaccine mandate for its public school teachers, as the rates of COVID-19 among children have increased over the past few months.

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