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Federal judge delays vaccine mandate for New York City teachers and staff

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New York City’s vaccination mandate for education department employees was temporarily put on hold by a federal judge. Above, Lehman High School in the Bronx served as a pop up vaccination site in the last week of July.

Christina Veiga / Chalkbeat

New York City’s vaccination mandate for education department employees was put on hold after a federal judge on Friday night temporarily blocked it, officials said. 

The requirement to receive at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine was set to take effect close of business Monday, with unvaccinated staffers barred from entering schools on Tuesday and faced with unpaid leave. But a federal appeals court granted an injunction that is expected to remain in place until a panel of three judges reviews the case Wednesday.

Administrators have been bracing for staff shortages, since a sizable minority of teachers, school safety agents, and other staff still haven’t received the vaccine. At least 87% of teachers are vaccinated, according to city officials. Rates are thought to be much lower for other essential school staff, however, and the principals union said some large schools have dozens of unvaccinated teachers. As of Friday, about 30,000 education department staffers still hadn’t submitted proof that they had received their shot.

Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter wrote to principals on Saturday morning that the education department is confident the mandate will ultimately stand. 

She reminded staff that the city’s vaccination-or-test requirement stands, which calls for unvaccinated staffers to submit weekly, negative coronavirus tests. 

“We are confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld; our students, school communities and colleagues deserve no less,” Porter wrote. 

The city’s vaccination mandate faces challenges on multiple fronts. A coalition of the city’s labor unions have also sued to stop it. The judge in that case blocked a temporary injunction against the requirement. 

The teachers union had also filed a labor complaint against the city, which ultimately led to the education department establishing a process for educators to receive medical and religious exemptions, and accommodations for those with medical conditions that could make it unsafe to return to classrooms. 

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said that the federal court ruling “gives the Mayor and city Department of Education more time to put together a real plan for dealing with the expected staff vacancies the mandate would create.”

The education department alerted preschool and child care providers who contract with the city that they still must comply with the vaccination requirement by the original deadline. However, there won’t be consequences for programs yet.

“We will delay enforcement temporarily in an attempt to begin enforcement across the entire system at the same time,” according to a notice sent to providers.

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