New York’s requirement that virtually everyone who works in public schools in the city should be vaccinated against the coronavirus forced thousands of Department of Education employees to receive at least one dose of the vaccine last week, greatly increasing the rate of vaccination among educators. Preliminary information released on Friday.
City officials said at least one percent of principals and 93 percent of teachers and 90 percent of non-teaching staff had been vaccinated by Friday. Statistics may vary by Monday, the deadline for meeting requirements, as more employees are more likely to get shots or give evidence of vaccinations on the weekends.
The Department of Education said more than 18,000 shots were given to staff since Sept. 24.
“Orders work, they make us safe,” Mr. De Blasio said in a television interview on Friday. “I would urge every American mayor to do it now, get that vaccine mandate before the cold weather, when the situation is going to get worse. Do it now, or you’ll regret it later.”
The union, which represents teachers in the city, which monitors vaccinations individually among its members, said about 95 percent of its members received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The New York order, which took effect after school days began on Monday, is the mayor’s first attempt to require a ticker without testing for city workers. This could lay the groundwork for a wider need for a wider workforce in the city.
The requirement applies to more than 150,000 people who work in the largest school system in the country, including teachers, principals, custodians, school safety agents and lunch assistants.
School staff who did not provide proof that they had received at least one dose of the vaccine were automatically placed on unpaid leave at the end of Friday. Those who proved they received a shot over the weekend were allowed to report to school on Monday and were added to the salary.
Teachers who receive the vaccine after Monday can return to school after receiving the first dose. Those who do not will be barred from entering the school and will be kept on unpaid leave with health insurance for one year.
Although the order apparently pressured many employees to be vaccinated, the mayor’s decision to impose it will be further tested this week, as some schools are plagued by potential staff shortages due to the departure of obsolete staff.
In many schools, almost all staff members are vaccinated, and the order will have no effect. But some schools will probably have to call in a huge number of alternative teachers. Others will probably have to move from hot lunch serving to the grab-and-go option due to the lack of cafeteria support.
During a radio interview on Friday, Mr. De Blasio stressed that there were more than enough options for the thousands of academics and support staff who were expected to be on leave on Monday.
As of Friday afternoon, about 4,000 teachers were still without vaccinations and about 30 principals or assistant principals had not received shots. About 15,000 illiterate workers were not vaccinated. City officials said they are ready to re-employ other employees to fill those positions. About 500 employees were given religious or medical exemptions.
Daniel Filson, a spokesman for the mayor, said there were about 1,000,000 alternative teachers and another 5,000 alternative paraprofessionals who had been vaccinated and could be sent to school immediately.
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The city promised that the schools would pay extra to pay the extra rent, and some central office staff who were certified to teach would often be called to the school, at least temporarily.
Union officials said they were particularly concerned about school safety agents who refused to be vaccinated. They work for the police department and cannot be easily replaced. At least 82 percent of agents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, police officials said. By comparison, the police department had an overall vaccination rate of 67%.
The last-minute crowd of school staff to take shots reflects a similar scene involving healthcare workers around the state, with thousands of people rushing to vaccinate hospital and nursing home staff in the days before the order went into effect.
City officials now need to determine if they can achieve similar success among employees in other cities and their unions, especially in groups with relatively low vaccination rates, including police officers and sanitation workers.
A lawsuit filed by a coalition of unions representing school workers, including the United Federation of Teachers, demanding the closure of the mandate when the city’s legal authority was strengthened when its workers needed vaccines – failed.
“Where there is political will, there is a judicial way to make the vaccine compulsory,” said David Bloomfield, a professor of education law and policy at City University in New York’s Graduate Center and Brooklyn College.
“And in schools, in particular, there are many legal precedents for dealing with coercive harassment of staff,” he said.
One group of teachers has filed a separate legal challenge seeking at least a temporary ban. The request was briefly granted by a federal appeals court judge, but has now been rejected by two other federal courts. A panel of U.S. Court of Appeals judges for the second circuit will hear the plaintiff’s appeal Oct. 14.
The teachers also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to have the case accepted, with Justice Sonia Stomayer rejecting the request without mentioning it in full court on Friday.
Confusion over the temporary ban forced Mr de Blasio to delay the order by a week, enabling him to meet requests from union leaders who represent teachers and principals and who argued that the school needed more time to prepare for staff shortages.
The mayor has taken part in his legacy of successfully reopening public schools during the epidemic, and he has said for weeks that ensuring that all adults are vaccinated in school buildings is the best way to keep the system safe.
Although the rate of virus-infection in the city was very low when school buildings reopened last year, for private learning last year, some educators and parents expressed serious concern about returning to the continuing threat posed by highly contagious delta variants.
While the city is not offering students the option of remote-learning this year, it has disappointed some parents who are still feeling uncomfortable sending their children to the classroom. Some families are taking part in an informal strike, admitting their children without sending them to the classroom. Those babies may be removed from the roll next week.
Thousands of medically weak children have the option of learning from home or receiving instruction in person at home.
Three weeks into the school year, it’s too early to say whether the city will be able to keep students as safe as the previous year, when very few children came to school. There are about 600,000 more children in this year’s classroom than last year.
Since Sept. 1, 1,13 of the city’s 5,000,000 classrooms have been temporarily shut down due to virus outbreaks and potential exposure. More than 2,100 patients were caught out of the city’s one million students and 883 out of thousands of staff. So far, only one school has been completely closed due to an outbreak. Since then it has been launched again.
Last week, the mayor extended school exams and separate segregation rules, a shift aimed at mitigating disruptions caused by frequent classroom closures in the first week of class. The mayor’s plan to test only 10 percent of unsafe people at school each week was criticized and is now being tested weekly.
Vaccine orders are being implemented at a crucial moment for the city and its schools. The overall number of infections in New York has been declining for weeks, and elementary school children are more likely to be eligible to be vaccinated through Thanksgiving.
But further disruption is almost inevitable. There are still many middle and high school students who have been vaccinated, although children 12 years of age or older are eligible for the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine since the spring. There will almost certainly be a significant number of young children who do not get vaccinated immediately after becoming eligible.
And since groundbreaking events among vaccinated students will also be a matter of concern, temporary classrooms will be closed and even the entire building will be closed.
Mr. De Blasio said he had no plans to issue vaccination orders for children. Friday, Gov. of California. Los Angeles, the second largest school district in the country, will issue vaccination orders to students early next year.