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, president of the Community Education Council 24.
According to Mayor de Blasio’s Office, over 43,000 doses of the vaccine were given 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, including 96 percent of teachers and 99 percent of principals.
An estimated 10 principals out of 1,600 are unvaccinated, said a Department of Education spokesperson in an email.
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, he said. 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 extracurricular 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 who was working as a central office-based roving supervisor and who also 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 for is retiring because of the mandate but that position, as well as another retiree’s, will need to be permanently replaced.
“We’ve got lot of talented young people who are ready to take those jobs and they’re getting more experience now. And some of those subs, undoubtedly, are going to get hired as permanent teachers as part of our school system. There’s plenty of people,” the mayor assured at a press conference on Monday.
As for school safety officers who refused the vaccine, the DOE spokesperson insisted that schools are properly staffed with agents. “The safety of our students is our first priority, and we are working closely with the NYPD to ensure that every school has coverage by school safety agents,” the spokesperson said.