A resolution between New York City and the union representing teachers in the country's largest school district will grant educators new options if they are unwilling to get a vaccine against COVID-19.
The United Federation of Teachers and city's Department of Education announced late Friday that an arbitrator had ruled teachers with medical and religious exemptions must be offered alternative work assignments.
"An independent arbitrator has ruled that New York City teachers with certain documented medical conditions must be offered non-classroom assignments," a UFT statement read Friday.
Non-classroom work will be offered to educators with specific medical conditions who have not been vaccinated, but also to vaccinated teachers who have suppressed immune systems, the arbitrator ruled.
“The city has also agreed – based on the arbitrator’s determination – to create both a leave process and a severance agreement for other teachers who feel that they cannot comply with the vaccination mandate," a statement from the union president, Michael Mulgrew, said.
Teachers who decline to vaccinate against COVID-19 and do not qualify for an exemption will be offered unpaid leave through September 2022 -- their medical insurance will still be covered. All staff who refuse unpaid leave can take a severance package instead, or face discipline, the union says.
The arbitrator's ruling comes three days before the district is scheduled to reopen classrooms citywide for the first days of the academic school year. The district's vaccine mandate for teachers will kick in two weeks later.
“Our vaccine mandate was put into place for the health and safety of our children, and the protection of our employees. We’re pleased that the binding Arbitration was issued before the first day of school and we will swiftly implement the terms," Chancellor Meisha Porter said in a statement Friday evening.
More than 700 vaccination sites will be spread out through the school system each day throughout the first week of school. Staff and students 12 years and older will be able to get their shot.
Late last month, New York City became the first in the nation to mandate a vaccine order without a test-out option.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure that everyone is safe and that we push back delta,” de Blasio said during his announcement. Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter called the policy “another layer of protection for our kids,” including her own 11th-grader.
Now, about 148,000 school employees — and contractors who work in schools — will have to get at least a first dose by Sept. 27, according to an announcement from the Democratic mayor and the city health and education departments.
More than 80 percent of teachers have already been vaccinated, according to union estimates.
School starts Monday for the city's roughly 1 million public school students, with no remote-learning option planned. Last year, families could choose between all-virtual learning and a blend of in-person and remote classes.