A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked a vaccine mandate for New York City educators and school staff that was set to go into effect Monday.
While more than 90% of teachers and 97% of principals are already vaccinated, the mandate was expected to cause staffing shortages in a handful of schools where a significant portion of school staff remain unvaccinated, especially in and around Staten Island.
Unions representing the city’s teachers and principals had been urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to delay the mandate leading up to the implementation date as concerns mounted that the country’s largest public school system could find itself with a shortage of 10,000 teachers and staff overnight.
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The mandate, which is set to affect more than 150,000 educators, custodians, school aides, cafeteria workers and more, was announced last month and does not allow weekly testing as an alternative to getting vaccinated.
The judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, who granted the injunction on a temporary basis, referred the case to a three-judge panel to review on an expedited timeline. Their decision is expected perhaps as early as Wednesday.
Until a decision is made, de Blasio said on Monday that the city will allow those who are not yet vaccinated to continue working as long as they’re tested weekly.
It’s not the first time the mandate has been challenged.
A state Supreme Court judge batted down a separate lawsuit filed by a group of smaller unions representing school employees, ruling last week that state and federal courts have historically upheld vaccination requirements.
The challenges to the city’s vaccine mandate are just the latest legal skirmish over COVID-19 safety protocols playing out in states and school districts across the country. And they come at a time when the Biden administration is leaning on vaccines as a way to allow schools to stay open as the highly contagious delta variant causes transmission and hospitalization rates to spike, including among school-aged children.
While it remains rare for children to develop a severe infection or to be hospitalized due to COVID-19, public health officials are increasingly alarmed by the impact of the virus on young people – especially in states and communities where vaccination rates remain low and schools have mask-optional policies.
The latest data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association show that nearly 29% of the cases recorded in the week leading up to Sept. 2 were in children. And after declining in early summer, child cases have been increasing exponentially, with over half a million cases added in the last two weeks.
On his back-to-school bus tour last week, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona urged educators and school leaders to make vaccines available on-site, especially in the coming weeks when the Food and Drug Administration is set to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for 5- to 11-year-olds.
“We know that vaccination eligibility for our elementary-aged students would be a game changer,” Cardona told U.S. News in an exclusive interview. “Not only would it help us keep our schools open and have less quarantining and closures, but it would also help parents breathe a lot easier and increase confidence in communities that their schools are safe.”