New York City’s vaccine mandate, which required anyone who works in a public school or a community-based center contracted by the Department of Education (DOE) to have gotten at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in order to continue working, finally went into effect on Monday, October 4, 2021.
Although Mayor Bill de Blasio reported that “Ninety-five percent of all full-time DOE employees are vaccinated, 96% of all teachers, 99% of all principals,” it left about 8,000 out of 148,000 DOE employees refusing to obey the mandate.
That same Monday, about 200 protesters, mostly teachers who had been placed on unpaid leave as a result of their refusal to be vaccinated, gathered in front of the DOE offices in Brooklyn, then marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to Union Square in protest of the mandate.
Michael Kane of Teachers for Choice, an organization against forced medical mandates for any American to keep their job, especially educators, told us, “Teachers and NYC DOE Employees who protested recently want to make clear that they stand firmly against intrusive medical mandates, especially those that are unnecessary. In addition, we firmly believe that the process of applying for religious and medical exemptions is unconstitutional and illegal.” He promised, “There will be more protests.”
Chloe Pashman, Education Director of a Bronx DOE contracted preschool, voiced her support. “I stand in solidarity with the DOE teachers and staff who were demonstrating on Monday, because I know that they would have much rather been in their classrooms and schools serving the students they love. It is unacceptable that they are the ONLY group of workers in the city who do not have a testing option, which has been available for the past month. Most schools were open all of last year, including my DOE contracted preschool, and no one was vaccinated. This mandate is counterproductive and NOT about health and safety at all. Testing is a much better way to keep people safe in a school community, combined with the other mitigation methods that have been being used for over a year. Remove a mandate that has caused a severe staffing shortage that will not only inhibit education, but endanger lives.”
While Mayor de Blasio insisted that there would be no staffing shortages, that there were plenty of substitute teachers available to fill any resulting gaps, Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of Schools Supervisors and Administrators, admitted that some schools were having trouble filling all the required positions, saying that, “There are still too many school leaders that have been unable to find qualified substitutes.”
Mark Treyger, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education, confirmed:
If NYC has thousands of available substitutes, then why do I keep hearing from principals that they can’t find any? Additionally, it is still unclear what central staff can be required to do if redeployed into schools beyond just supervision. Para positions are of great concern.
— Mark Treyger 🍎 (@MarkTreyger718) October 1, 2021
Parents of children with special needs who require a paraprofessional in the classroom were especially concerned about how a staffing shortage would hurt their children. A group of Staten Island families filed a lawsuit to prevent unvaccinated employees of their school from being placed on unpaid leave, arguing that “special needs children with carefully crafted IEPs cannot be instructed and cared for by unqualified substitutes,” and any attempt to do so would be a breach of contract causing “irreparable and potentially irreversible harm.”
Some public school parents sympathised with the plight of teachers reluctant to get the vaccine. A parent who identified herself as “a pharmacist and a biochemist” asserted, “I am outraged. There was a huge shortage of teachers who wanted to teach in person last year. My kindergartener had such a horrible time adjusting to first year in school between remote learning and open windows in the coldest months and masks, but having his teacher change four times where he could not form any personal connection was the worst. We had a substitute at one point who was not qualified to teach such young graders. I spoke with that teacher and he had no clue how to keep order in his classroom. It takes experience and different skills to teach elementary grades. Substitute suffered and so did our kids. We finally had him replaced. This year those teachers who wanted to get vaccinated did so before the mandate. Others may have been recovered from covid, have religious exemptions, medical circumstances, whatever, it is their choice as by not being vaccinated they only risk their own health. Everyone in school still wears masks and keeps their distance. Enforcing this mandate in school and keeping qualified teachers out of their jobs is nonsense. It is our children that will suffer. Let the unvaccinated teach as they did last year. Do not keep qualified teachers out of their jobs and replace them with substitutes!”
Peter Kraniotakis, who has two children attending NYC DOE schools, agreed, “I feel it is imperative for all citizens and employees to have the freedom to choose what medical procedures they choose to take without discrimination. The idea of forcing an irreversible medical procedure on any individual is a line that should not be crossed. In addition, people should have a right to medical privacy and not be placed in an environment that forces labels on them.”
Others chimed in:
MC: My entire household is vaccinated, including our two children in public school. That said, I don’t believe in mandating the vaccine for teachers or anyone else. Getting vaccinated was OUR choice and teachers should have that right as well.
JS: We cannot become a society that sets in place laws that are made out of fear. Sickness is all around us. We will never eradicate all diseases. Don’t allow your freedom to be taken away in the name of fear.
Sarah S. disagreed: When you are spending all day in a room with vulnerable unvaccinated children, I don’t believe you have the right to choose not to be vaccinated. If you have a medical condition that prevents you from being vaccinated, you should be just as concerned for your own health and family about spending day after day with an unvaccinated population. I fully support the mandate, with appropriate work arounds for those who have been medically advised not to get the vaccine (which is a very small population). There wouldn’t need to be a vaccine mandate if people considered their responsibility to keep the vulnerable children in their care safe.
And so did the following:
RS: I definitely agree that all teachers and other people who can be vaccinated must be so. It’s the only chance we have to keep our kids safe in school.
IB: Teachers – Enough: get vaccinated!
While it is impossible to calculate exactly how many parents support a vaccine mandate, we can look to attendance records for one data point. According to the DOE, on the first day of school, when no vaccine mandate was in place, 82% of registered public school students were marked present. On Tuesday, October 5, after the mandate went into effect, 86.42% attended class, suggesting that parents’ faith in schools being able to keep their children safe is going up, and that the vaccine mandate must be at least one contributing factor to that confidence.