NEW YORK (AP) – All New York City public school teachers and other staff must be vaccinated against the coronavirus, officials said Monday in order to step up pandemic protection as the nation’s largest school system shifts to start teaching in the prepared next month.
The city previously said that teachers, like other city workers, would need to be given the injections or have themselves tested for the virus on a weekly basis. The new directive is the first no-option vaccination mandate for a broad group of urban workers in the country’s most populous city, despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement on Friday that coaches and students will be vaccinated in football, basketball and other “high-risk” sports, before the game starts.
Around 148,000 school employees – and contractors who work in schools – must now receive at least an initial dose by September 27, according to an announcement by the city’s Democratic Mayor and Ministry of Health and Education.
“We will do everything we can to make sure everyone is safe and push Delta back,” said de Blasio. School Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter called the policy “another layer of protection for our children,” including her own eleventh grader.
The city did not immediately say what the penalty for refusal would be or whether there would be exceptions. Prior vaccination or testing required unpaid suspensions for workers who did not comply.
Unions representing school workers said they needed answers – and negotiation.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said his priority was “to protect our children and keep schools open” but provisions for medical exemptions and other details need to be negotiated and “resolved through arbitration if necessary” . The city directors’ union, the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators, said it would “protect the rights and interests of our members at the negotiating table”.
Custodian Union President Robert Troeller said he was concerned the city had announced the rule without negotiation.
Troeller said he believes about 60% of the 850 members of Local 891 of the International Union of Operating Engineers got at least a first shot. But at least some who didn’t “firmly oppose it,” he said.
De Blasio said the city will negotiate details with the unions this week and officials are hoping to find an agreement. But the mayor said the city intends to implement the Sept. 27 requirement with or without an agreement.
At least 63% of all school employees are already vaccinated. This number does not include those who may have been shot outside of the city.
The new requirement came when federal regulators granted full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, one of three vaccines available in the United States.
School begins on September 13 for the roughly 1 million students in the city’s public schools, with no distance learning option planned. Last year families could choose between purely virtual learning and a mix of face-to-face and distance learning.
New York and several other cities and states have battled the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus by increasing pressure to vaccinate more people.
New York City began asking for proof of vaccination last week to enter dining rooms, gyms, and many other public places, a first guideline by the nation that several other cities have copied since it was announced. Meanwhile, New York State announced last week that hospital and nursing home workers would need to be vaccinated.
Vaccination requests for teachers have been fairly rare in the US so far, although Washington State, for example, says teachers need to be vaccinated or must be fired. Vaccination or testing requirements are slightly more common and exist in places like Los Angeles and Chicago, the two largest US school districts after New York.
A new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 6 in 10 Americans say students and teachers must wear face masks during school and that teachers and eligible students should also get vaccinated. But Democrats and Republicans differ greatly on these issues, the poll found.