The city's mandate ordering all New York City school staff to be vaccinated by next week hit another roadblock after a federal appeals court issued a temporary injunction three days before the mayor's deadline.
Workers in the nation’s largest school system were to be required to show vaccination proof starting Monday. But late Friday, a judge for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary injunction sought by a group of teachers pending review by a three-judge panel, which will take up the motion Wednesday.
Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Filson said officials were seeking a speedy resolution in court.
“We’re confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve,” Filson said in an email.
The city's chancellor confirmed the ruling in a memo to staff Saturday morning, adding that she expects a final ruling on the mandate in the coming week.
"While this means that the current vaccine or weekly testing mandate remains in place for the week of September 27 for all staff, we should continue to prepare for the possibility that the vaccine mandate will go into effect later in the week," Chancellor Meisha Porter wrote.
Unvaccinated staff must still conduct weekly testing for COVID-19 and submit their results to the district, the chancellor said.
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As of Saturday, at least 85% of department employees have been partially vaccinated, including 89% of teachers. The ruling marks the latest hurdle in a back and forth between the city and unions representing educators and staff in the nation's largest school district.
A coalition of unions had filed a lawsuit against the mandate and had asked for the injunction against its implementation. State Supreme Court Justice Laurence Love put the first TRO in place last week, but removed it in his ruling on Wednesday.
Judge Love said he had initially ordered the injunction because the city's original mandate didn't say anything about medical or religious exemptions, but said the city subsequently put out language saying nothing in the mandate would prohibit accommodations that are legally required.
He said that removed the need for the injunction, and also doubted the unions' ultimately being able to succeed in their claim that their due process rights were being violated.
“The state and federal courts have consistently held that a mandatory vaccine requirement does not violate substantive due process rights and properly fall within the state’s police power," Love wrote.
The city’s mandate that teachers and staff get vaccinated is relatively rare in the U.S. Other states and districts have imposed rules requiring vaccines or weekly tests for the virus.
Unlike other school districts, New York City is not offering any remote instruction this school year, despite concerns about the highly contagious delta variant’s ability to spread. De Blasio has said children need to be back in school for their mental and physical health and social development.
Concerns the city's vaccine mandate would leave the nation's largest school district down thousands of teachers in the first weeks of the school year are unfounded, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.
The mayor believes the high demand for substitute teachers during the previous school year brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic readied the district to bring in replacement educators with only a moment's notice. He told Brian Lehrer on his weekly radio appearance that families shouldn't worry about last teachers and staff disappearing after Monday's vaccine mandate kicks in.
"We've talked about this all since last year, we had an extraordinary recruitment effort for last year when we had – obviously last year we had about 25 percent of our teachers home on medical accommodation. We had to recruit a huge number of new teachers. We did that. They're overwhelmingly vaccinated themselves. They're available, they're ready," de Blasio said on WNYC.
"I think the bottom line here is a lot's going to happen between now and Monday, but beyond that, we're ready even to the tune of, if we need thousands, we have thousands."
By the UFT's own estimations, roughly 6,000 members had not been vaccinated ahead of the Monday deadline. Of that group, some 3,000 had applied for a medical exemption; de Blasio said a few hundred had been approved.
The unions representing the district's teachers and principals are not so convinced, however.
"The UFT and the principals’ union want to help schools address the staffing issues, but the DOE has failed even to share basic information with us about where the shortages will be most severe," the UFT tweeted Friday.
New York City rolled out another vaccine day of action on Thursday across the five boroughs' public schools, a day after a state judge lifted a temporary restraining order on the vaccine mandate for teachers and other staffers.
The city had announced last month that school employees would have to get at least a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by Sept. 27, impacting about 148,000 school workers and contractors, and it can now go forward as planned. Unlike the vaccine mandate for the city's 300,000 employees, educators will not have the option undergo weekly COVID-19 testing to remain in their jobs.
Parents have mixed reactions but many agreed that vaccination can help protect kids under 12 who are unable to get the vaccine.
"I do think it's fair. It makes me feel that my son is safer and will have more continuity in his teachers if they don't get sick," said parent Marcia Stern.
Another parent, Randy Vasquez, told NBC New York that he agrees with the union that the mandate is unfair but he also believes that it will protect kids.
New York is also requiring vaccinations for student-athletes and coaches in “high risk” sports like football, basketball and wrestling. De Blasio said Monday that he’s not yet considering a broader vaccine requirement for all eligible students, despite Pfizer's announcement Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine works for children ages 5 to 11 and that it will seek U.S. authorization for that age group.