Alex Zimmerman, Chalkbeat New York
A federal appeals court has removed a temporary block on New York City’s vaccine mandate for education department employees, paving the way for officials to require all school staff to receive a vaccine dose or else be put on unpaid leave.
A hearing in the case was initially scheduled for Wednesday, with the vaccine mandate on hold in the interim. But Monday’s unexpected decision appears to allow the city to enforce its vaccine mandate immediately.
The vaccine mandate was initially scheduled to go into effect at midnight on Monday, with educators who failed to provide proof of at least one vaccine dose put on unpaid leave and barred from entering their school buildings. The mandate will now go into effect starting Monday, Oct. 4, according to Danielle Filson, an education department spokesperson. Educators will have to show proof of at least one vaccine dose by the end of the day Friday.
“Vaccinations are our strongest tool in the fight against COVID-19 — this ruling is on the right side of the law and will protect our students and staff,” Filson said in a statement.
The ruling comes on the heels of a similar ruling by a state court judge that lifted a separate temporary hold on the vaccine mandate, saying that the case would likely not be successful on the merits.
Roughly 148,000 education department employees will be subject to the mandate when it goes into effect, including about 78,000 teachers and thousands of school safety agents who work in schools and are employed by the police department.
As of Monday, officials said 87% of all education department employees have had at least one dose, including 91% of teachers and 97% of principals. That leaves about 19,000 education department staff, and 7,800 teachers, who have yet to demonstrate proof of a first dose and could be barred from schools when the mandate goes into effect.
Officials have been girding for staff shortages as a result of the mandate, since a small but significant percentage of teachers, school safety agents, and other staff remain unvaccinated. Union officials have argued the city does not have adequate plans to handle thousands of vacancies, though city officials say they have substitutes at the ready.
“The city has a lot of work before it to ensure that enough vaccinated staff will be available by the new deadline,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the city’s teachers union, said in a statement. “We will be working with our members to ensure, as far as possible, that our schools can open safely as the vaccine mandate is enforced.”
De Blasio said Monday that he expects the prospect of lost paychecks to prompt an increase in vaccination rates among education department staff, which have been incrementally rising.
“They have to make a really big decision,” de Blasio said. “[Do] they really want to give up on their kids, and the school community? Do they want to give up a paycheck? I think a lot of people, when they really think about it, are going to realize that getting vaccinated is the right thing to do.”
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.
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