NYC Issues Vaccine Mandate for Religious and Private Schools, Employees Must Get First Shot by Dec. 20

NYC Issues Vaccine Mandate for Religious and Private Schools, Employees Must Get First Shot by Dec. 20

By Yehudit Garmaise

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today a new COVID-19 vaccine mandate that will require all non-public school employees to get their first shots by Dec. 20.

The city’s newest vaccine mandate will affect approximately 56,000 employees of 938 yeshivas, Catholic schools, and other private schools.

On Monday, the mayor announced a vaccine mandate that applies to the city’s 102,000 workers who provide childcare.

"Vaccinations are the key to our recovery, and our public schools are among the safest places to be in the city," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "Childcare centers will now be just as safe. 

“We're doing everything in our power to protect our students and school staff, and a mandate for non-public school employees will help keep our school communities and youngest New Yorkers safe."

Health officials say that the mayor’s mandate is influenced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has recommended that all school teachers and staff be vaccinated as soon as possible: especially in light of the Omicron variant, which was just detected in New York City today.

The city’s mandate comes on the same day on which Gov. Hochul and the mayor announced that five New Yorkers have been confirmed to be infected with the Omicron variant in the state: including one in Brooklyn, two in Queens, and one in Long Island.

In the coming weeks, the city, the mayor said, will work collaboratively with school leaders to ensure that vaccinations are easily accessible and that school operations can continue to run without interruption.

"The health and safety of our children is paramount and we are extending our vaccine mandate to ensure all schools are protected from COVID-19," Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said. "All teachers and school staff should get vaccinated as soon as possible. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and save lives."

In response, however, Rabbi David Zweibel, the chairman of the NYC Religious and Independent School Official, wrote Dr. Chokshi a letter, on behalf of the city’s religious schools and historically black independent schools, that explained that while his group supports and encourages vaccination in their schools, the Committee “firmly opposes any mandate.”

"While we support and generally encourage COVID vaccination in our schools, and while in fact the large majority of our schools' employees are vaccinated, most of our schools do not insist upon such vaccination as a condition of employment," part of the letter read. "Many of our schools view COVID vaccination as a matter most appropriately left to individual choice, not governmental fiat. 

“This is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce."

In addition to disagreeing with the government’s lack of respect for what Rabbi Zweibel says should be school employees’ “personal choice,” he pointed out that practically, the vaccination mandate for the yeshivas “could be devastating to our schools and the children they serve” because of “the difficulty of finding new, quality teachers in the middle of the school year.”

“Some schools,” Rabbi Zweibel said, “may be forced to close because of the severe shortage of teachers.”

Some in the community wonder whether the city even has the legal authority to impose vaccine mandates on private schools.

For instance, City Councilman Kalman Yeger tweeted “this city has no legal authority to bark these mandates at private employers and religious institutions. This will just lead to another court battle on religious freedom which New York will - once again - lose.”

Regarding the news of how the vaccine mandate for non-public schools was received by the Jewish community, Met Council CEO David Greenfield tweeted, "It went over about as well as you’d expect."

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