New York City has issued a new mandate on COVID-19 vaccinations for religious and private schools. The new directive, put in place on December 2, will require all employees of such institutions to provide proof of vaccination, at least the first dose, by December 20, 2021.
According to ABC7NY, Mayor Bill de Blasio called vaccinations “the key” to a swift recovery from the pandemic. He said in the announcement:
“Childcare centers will now be just as safe, and it’s time to use the tools we have at our disposal to climb the ladder even further. We’re doing everything in our power to protect our students and school staff, and a mandate for nonpublic school employees will help keep our school communities and youngest New Yorkers safe.”
The new directive will affect some 960 schools and about 56,000 employees of the most populous city in the United States. The mandate will bring religious and private school employees in line with their public school counterparts, as well as police officers and firefighters of NYC. It also falls in line with CDC recommendations on vaccinations of school teachers and staff.
While these new measures are being taken in response to the growing threat of the new omicron variant, they have drawn criticism from some religious advocates. Members of the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials were quick to send a letter voicing their reservations to the new mandate.
They noted that the majority of school employees are already vaccinated. The committee wrote in the letter:
“Many of our schools view COVID vaccination as a matter most appropriately left to individual choice, not governmental fiat. This is an area where [the] government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce.”
According to the New York Times, 77% of New Yorkers have already been vaccinated. This figure drops significantly, however, when looking at some religious communities. The Orthodox Jewish communities have some of the lowest rates of vaccination. For example, Brooklyn’s Borough Park only has a rate of 51%.
In August, Cardinal Timothy Dolan encouraged all employees of Catholic schools to be vaccinated. The prelate argued that it would be to the detriment of the children for teachers and staff to remain unvaccinated.
There has been no indication as to what action may be taken against teachers and staff who refuse to be vaccinated by December 20. While it can be assumed that they will not be allowed to work without it, this could create a teacher shortage. Some have warned that faculties could decrease by so much that some schools may have to close.