95% of Full-Time NYC Schools Staff Vaccinated as New Mandate Takes Effect Amid Protest

The vaccination mandate in the nation’s largest school system does not include a test-out option but does allow for medical and religious exemptions; Mayor Bill de Blasio reiterated the mandate will "be the rule going forward"

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What to Know

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio says NYC's vaccine mandate for public school employees will remain "the rule going forward;" it officially took effect Monday in the face of multiple failed legal challenges
  • As of Monday, de Blasio said 95% of all full-time Department of Education staff had met the requirement; that includes 99% of principals and 96% of teachers, he added
  • The vaccination mandate in the nation’s largest school system does not include a test-out option for those who don't want to get their shots but it does allow for medical and religious exemptions

New York City teachers and other school staff members are required to be at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Monday as the controversial mandate for the largest public school district in the country goes into effect.

Ninety-five percent of all full-time schools staff met that requirement by the time the city's roughly million public school students were in the chairs. That number includes 99% of public school principals and 96% of teachers, the mayor said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had given a final warning to the city's roughly 148,000 public school staffers on Friday, saying unvaccinated employees would be placed on unpaid leave and not be allowed to work this week. The city is bringing in substitutes as needed. Unvaccinated employees can return once they get dosed.

Roughly 200 anti-vaccine mandate demonstrators, many of them teachers now on unpaid leave, protested in front of Department of Education officers in Brooklyn earlier Monday ahead of a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

When they arrived in Union Square, some protesters knocked over one of the city's free COVID-19 mobile testing setups including the table and tent. Video from the scene showed multiple witnesses and a few police officers nearby but they didn't make any arrests.

Neither de Blasio nor the schools chancellor had an exact number on hand early Monday as to how many DOE staffers had been placed on unpaid leave for refusal to comply with the vaccine mandate. They say they're equipped to handle any staffing issues throughout the school system -- especially given what's at stake.

"Our parents needed to know their kids would be safe. They entrust us with their children. It's one of the most sacred things when a parent says to a school community, 'I am letting you have my child for the school day. Please help them to grow. Please help them to learn. But you gotta keep them safe,'" the mayor said.

"That is what this mandate is all about," he added. "Every adult in our schools is now vaccinated and that's going to be the rule going forward and that's the way to keep kids safe and the whole school community safe."

The mandate spurred many teachers to get vaccinated as the deadline approached. United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said 97% of his union's members had received at least one vaccine dose as of Monday morning.

That's up from Friday when de Blasio said 93% of teachers had received at least one shot. The mayor said Monday that nearly 45,000 doses had been administered to public school employees since he announced the mandate on Aug. 23

That includes 18,000 shots administered just since last Friday, a number NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter described as an "incredible surge."

Implementing the mandate smoothly is a test for de Blasio, a Democrat who has boasted of the city’s record of keeping school buildings open during most of the last school year when other districts went to all-remote instruction.

New York City is not offering a remote option this year, a plan on which de Blasio has consistently insisted will remain the plan through spring despite some requests from parents and teachers alike to offer at least some alternatives.

The city's vaccination mandate does not include a test-out option for those who don't want to get their shots but it does allow for medical and religious exemptions. It was supposed to go into effect last week but was delayed when a federal appeals court granted a temporary injunction. An appeals panel reversed that decision three days later.

A similar mandate is set to go into effect in Los Angeles on Oct. 15.

Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of Schools Supervisors and Administrators, said that despite a surge in vaccinations last week, some principals were having difficulty finding enough staff to replace unvaccinated workers.

“While we’re thankful that the percentage of vaccinated staff has increased systemwide since the deadline was extended, there are still too many school leaders that have been unable to find qualified substitutes for Monday,” Cannizzaro said.

A group of teachers and other school employees who had sued over the school vaccine mandateasked the U.S. Supreme Courton Thursday for an emergency injunction blocking its implementation. The request was denied on Friday.

Many students and parents support the vaccine mandate as the best way to keep schools open during the pandemic.

“It’s safer for our kids,” said Joyce Ramirez, 28, who was picking her three children up from a Bronx elementary school last week.

Ramirez said she hopes the requirement will lessen the chances of teachers contracting the virus and prompting classroom or school shutdowns.

Cody Miller, a 15-year-old sophomore at a high school in Manhattan, said teachers should all be vaccinated. “I think they should,” said the teen, who got vaccinated himself as soon as the Pfizer shot was approved for people 12 and up. “It’s so many kids, it’s a big environment, you know?”

But Mally Diroche, another Bronx parent, had mixed feelings. “I kind of feel like that’s a decision they should be able to make on their own,” said the mom of three boys between 3 and 12. Diroche, 29, said she feels that masks and other precautions can check the virus’ spread within schools.

Some educators have reservations about the mandate but are complying.

Maurice Jones, 46, a support staff member at a Manhattan middle school, said he got vaccinated months ago but he sympathizes with co-workers who have not gotten the shots. “If they’ve got to get tested more they’ve got to get tested more,” Jones said. “I don’t think they should lose their job.”

Roxanne Rizzi, who teaches technology at an elementary school in Queens, waited until Friday to get her first coronavirus vaccine shot.

“I had to do it for the finances of my family,” she said.

Rizzi, 55, had resisted the vaccine because she contracted COVID-19 in November and believed natural immunity would protect her. She said she would continue to protest the mandate.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people should get vaccinated even if they have already been infected by the virus. The agency says COVID-19 vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity and help prevent getting infected again.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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