A Covid-19 vaccination mandate went into effect on Monday for New York City public school teachers and staff, leaving some Queens schools to fill the vacancies left by those who refused the shot.
“Unfortunately, we have teachers that are adamant about not getting the vaccine,” said Phil Wong, former president of Community Education Council 24. He said that the issue extends to principals and administrative faculty, too.
According to Mayor de Blasio’s office, many received the vaccine since the mandate was announced on Aug. 23. The mayor said that 95 percent of the city’s public school staff received at least one shot as of Monday, Oct. 4, including 96 percent of teachers and 99 percent of principals.
One high school teacher in Queens, who asked to remain anonymous, only got his vaccine because he could not afford to lose his job. “We held out as long as we could until they gave the deadline,” he said. “If they didn’t stick with this mandate, I don’t think any of those teachers would have gotten it, including me.”
Only one teacher at this smaller Queens high school refused the vaccine and was not in on Monday. She taught AP classes and now the other teachers are providing coverage until substitutes are brought in. The city has promised substitutes, but her position was not filled as of Monday. About 3,700 substitutes were needed citywide on Monday.
“If I’m a parent of a kid who has AP classes, am I going to be satisfied with someone just coming in to replace their teacher, who they got to know over the last few weeks?” said the Queens high school teacher who did comply with the mandate. He said on top of their regular five classes and sixth extra curricular period, they will have to take on classes to cover her absence, as well.
“Other teachers have to carry that burden until they fill that spot,” he said.
Some other schools in the borough are able to carry on with “business as usual,” said a high-level school administrator that was working as a central office-based roving supervisor who asked not to be named. He was contacted last week with a survey to assess where he could provide coverage if needed. Then, on Saturday night, he was told to report to a high school in Brooklyn on Monday. He could not confirm whether the person he is covering is retiring because of the mandate but that position, as well as another retiree’s, will need to be permanently replaced.
Wong said that he heard of teachers taking a leave or sick days, which makes it hard to quantify how many are out due to refusing the vaccination. “I heard from the grapevine that counselors or social workers will be mobilized to teach if it’s necessary,” said Wong.
The city is expected to release a final number of “non-compliant” staff sometime Monday.
This article originally misstated Phil Wong's position on CEC 24. He is its former president. We regret the error.