New York City to Require All Education Staff to Be Vaccinated

August 23, 2021 by Dan McCue
Students, teachers, administrators and counselors listen as principal Malik Lewis, second from left, teaches them a history lesson at West Brooklyn Community High School in New York in October 2020. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to announce new guidelines for the reopening of city schools that will require every Department of Education employee to have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by Sept. 27.

The new, stricter mandate is expected to be announced Monday. It will apply to about 148,000 city employees, including teachers, principals, custodial and office staff. 

Previously, the de Blasio administration had said those who wanted to forgo vaccination could continue to work so long as they submitted to weekly testing.

The decision to go ahead with the new rule is also an indication of how quickly the city’s response to the ongoing pandemic and the spread of the delta variant is evolving.

Appearing on the Brian Lehrer program on New York’s WNYC on Friday, de Blasio would only say the city was “actively looking” at “different actions we could take in terms of schools.”

The mayor added, “There’s a lot of energy out there for a larger mandate and that’s something we’re considering.”

The mayor used his weekly appearance on Lehrer’s show to announce a new city vaccination mandate related to school sports. The mandate requires that all student athletes, coaches, athletic directors and adult personnel involved in “high risk” sports be vaccinated.

These include, under the city’s definition, PSAL sports football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, and rugby, and because it is played indoors, bowling.

“First dose must be acquired by the first day of competitive play. So, any athlete, any coach has to have gotten their first dose of the vaccine by the first day of play or the first time that they practice with a team,” de Blasio said.

The fact that all teachers and staff in the city’s 1,800 public schools will now have to be fully vaccinated is likely to reassure many parents who are anxious about sending their children back into classrooms next month.

Mayor de Blasio has insisted that all students will return to schools in person on Sept. 13. But with three weeks to go until the first day of classes, he has not yet said how the city will handle testing or the quarantining of positive cases, a delay that has deeply frustrated parents and educators. 

What is known for certain is that the city is not offering a remote learning option.

On Friday de Blasio said he understands parents’ concerns.

“I was a public school parent the whole way, through both my kids,” the mayor said. “I understand parents are concerned about their kids’ safety first and foremost. That’s the number one thing you feel as a parent. There definitely – we have given a lot of information, but we have to do it better. That’s just the blunt reality. So, let’s go over what we have said. It’s everyone back in school, we’re following the CDC and the state education guidance around distancing. We’ll have a lot of ventilation in place. We’re actually adding extra ventilation in a number of classrooms. Everyone will be masked, adults and students alike. 

“On the quarantine dynamic, the quarantine dynamic has changed because of the high level of vaccination now,” de Blasio continued. “If you are vaccinated and you’re an adult or a student, if you’re vaccinated, and if there are cases, either in your classroom or in the school as a whole that cause action – if you are vaccinated and not symptomatic, you stay in school. School keeps going. If you’re vaccinated and symptomatic, you go and get tested and then follow through, depending on the test results. If you’re unvaccinated, you quarantine. We’re going to lay all this out starting next week in very specific detail, sort of a how-to, you know, FAQ kind of thing, to show people exactly how it works. But the thing I want to emphasize is we are going to see a lot of kids stay in school, who last year might have had to go home and be quarantined, because we have a different reality now with a high level of vaccination.”

With the announcement on Monday, New York City will join Washington State, Los Angeles and Chicago in announcing full vaccine mandates for teachers in the last few weeks.

The mayor told WNYC listeners on Friday that for two weeks in a row, more than a hundred thousand city residents had come in to be vaccinated – a first, he said.

“That’s a really good sign about the various efforts to get people to get vaccinated for the first time,” the mayor said, adding that 59% of the newly vaccinated were Black and Latino New Yorkers.

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