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N.Y.C. Will Mandate Vaccines for Teachers and School Staff

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N.Y.C. will require shots for all education staff, including teachers and principals.

New York City will join Washington State, Los Angeles and Chicago, which have all announced full vaccine mandates for teachers in the last few weeks.Credit…Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

Aug. 23, 2021Updated 1:35 p.m. ET

New York City will require every employee of the city’s Department of Education — including teachers, principals, custodians and all central office staff — to have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by Sept. 27, without the option of instead submitting to weekly testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday.

Hours later, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey announced that all employees of public, private and parochial schools in his state must be fully inoculated by Oct. 18 or be tested once or twice a week for the coronavirus. He said the rules also apply to all state employees and all substitute teachers, who are already in short supply.

Both announcements came as the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those 16 and older on Monday, a step that is expected to clear the way for many vaccine mandates by public and private employers across the country.

The F.D.A.’s approval also brought into force a requirement announced in May that all students attending in-person classes at State University of New York and City University of New York schools be vaccinated.

New York City’s mandate will affect some 148,000 city employees. It is an escalation of Mr. de Blasio’s effort to slow the spread of the Delta variant by getting more city residents vaccinated. New York is home to by far the largest public school district in the country, with roughly 1 million students.

Education staffers are the first group of city workers to face a full vaccine mandate. The announcement also opens the door to a broader vaccine mandate of city workers, which the mayor said Monday the city was considering. Last month, Mr. de Blasio issued a mandate for city workers that allowed for those unvaccinated to submit for weekly coronavirus testing.

“We know this is going to help ensure that everyone is safe,” Mr. de Blasio said during a news conference on Monday, adding that city schools had extremely low virus transmission last year. The mandate, the mayor said, will help the city “build on that success.”

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Mr. de Blasio’s push is likely to be unpopular with some D.O.E. employees, but is broadly supported by the city’s powerful teachers’ union. The city is still negotiating with the United Federation of Teachers and other unions representing education staff on what will happen to employees who do not comply with the mandate. The city announced last month that educators who did not comply with the requirement to be vaccinated or submit to testing would be suspended without pay, and a similar consequence is likely for staffers who refuse to be vaccinated under the new mandate.

On Monday, Michael Mulgrew, U.F.T. president, acknowledged that the city had the legal right to create such a mandate, but said key details were still being hashed out.

“While the city is asserting its legal authority to establish this mandate, there are many implementation details, including provisions for medical exceptions, that by law must be negotiated with the U.F.T. and other unions, and if necessary, resolved by arbitration,” Mr. Mulgrew said in a statement.

Mr. de Blasio said that, even if bargaining is stalled or does not succeed, the mandate will still go forward.

The mayor and Meisha Porter, the schools chancellor, said they expect a high level of compliance from schools staff on the new mandate. “I do not expect a staffing shortage,” Ms. Porter said.

In New Jersey, the new rules also apply to employees of public and private preschools, officials said.

The state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, a close ally of Mr. Murphy’s, made clear last week that giving teachers the flexibility to be tested in lieu of vaccination was a priority. The union said it did not have an estimate of how many teachers were already vaccinated.

Sean M. Spiller, the president-elect of the N.J.E.A. who is also the mayor of Montclair, N.J., said the teachers union supported the governor’s directive and that Mr. Murphy was committed to the “health and safety of N.J.E.A. members and the students we serve.”

Neither New York City nor New Jersey’s new mandates will require vaccination for eligible secondary school students. Mr. de Blasio said such a policy was “not on the table” for the city. Even so, on Friday the city said that about 20,000 high school athletes who participate in high-risk sports like basketball and football would have to be vaccinated by the start of their sport’s season.

New York City joins the states of Oregon and Washington State, and the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago, which have each announced full vaccine mandates for teachers in the last few weeks that have no testing option. California has a mandate similar to New Jersey’s that includes a testing option.

The fact that all teachers and staff in New York City’s 1,800 public schools will now have to be fully vaccinated is likely to reassure many parents who are anxious about sending their children back into classrooms next month.

Mr. de Blasio has been adamant that all students will return to schools in person on Sept. 13. But with three weeks to go until the first day of classes, he has not yet said how the city will handle testing or the quarantining of positive cases, a delay that has deeply frustrated parents and educators. Neither the city nor New Jersey is offering a remote learning option.

The precise percentage of teachers who have been vaccinated is still unknown. City officials have said that more than 63 percent of all Department of Education employees are vaccinated, but they have said that their figures do not include employees who got their shots outside New York City. About 75 percent of teachers who live in New York City have received at least one dose. By contrast, only about 43 percent of Police Department employees have been vaccinated.

Mr. Mulgrew has estimated that 70 or even 80 percent of his members are vaccinated, regardless of where they live, but his union also lacks definitive numbers. The new mandate will end the guessing game.

Mr. de Blasio said the city would announce more details on school safety — including long-awaited information on testing and quarantining — later this week.

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