NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Workers at New York City schools have until Monday to get their COVID vaccinations before the city's mandate goes into effect, prompting fears and warnings of a teacher shortage if not enough substitutes can be found.
Right now, about 10,000 teachers remain unvaccinated, and schools are scrambling to replace them before the deadline.
The unions representing teachers and principals are urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to push back the deadline.
"We are concerned," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, joined by Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro. "Very, very concerned."
All school employees -- including cafeteria and school lunch programs workers -- have until the end of Monday to report their vaccination status, and those who have not gotten a first dose will not be permitted to return the next day, leaving principals with little time to replace them.
The principals could then be greeted the next morning with personnel shortages across the board -- teachers, teachers aides, paraprofessionals, nurses, cafeteria workers, custodians. Cannizzaro said principals were told Thursday that "the overwhelming majority of schools" may be opening with just one school safety agent.
"This is the nightmare scenario," Mulgrew said.
De Blasio seemed confident that vaccinated replacements will be ready to step in.
"Central staff has thousands of certified educators who could step in to different roles, if needed," he said. "So they will be ready. But the reality we are seeing right now is, we think the overwhelming majority of our educators and staff are going to be there on Monday."
If there are massive staffing shortages, Mulgrew said he will bypass de Blasio and go straight to Governor Kathy Hochul for help.
Vaccination rates in schools vary, and the education department is planning to move teachers and even central office staff around to fill holes in staffing.
"There are schools with between 30 and over 100 people on the non-compliant list right now," Cannizzaro said.
Both unions say they their vaccination rate is in the 90th percentile, which Mulgrew said is the highest vaccination rate among city unions.
The UFT believes it will have about 95% vaccination, leaving about 6,000 teachers unvaccinated at the deadline. The city reports the UFT vaccination rate is 87%, and 80% for school employees overall.
"We're lucky that both CSA and UFT have the largest percentage of vaccinated members," Mulgrew said. "We're hoping by Monday night we're at 100%, but we know realistically that's not going to happen."
Schools include members from other unions, however, and just 75% of DC 37's school employees has been vaccinated. They represent school aides, parent coordinators and food workers, prompting the education department to prepare an emergency menu grab-and-go plan if there are serious cafeteria shortages.
"We've been encouraging people to be vaccinated since the vaccine came out," Cannizzaro said. "We're hopeful that a large majority will get vaccinated. But this is not just about teachers and administrators, it's about everyone who makes up a school community."
So far, approximately 530 education department employees have been approved for a vaccine exemption, the education department revealed. Estimates are nearly 20,000 non-teachers in the education department also lack proof of vaccination.
Earlier this week, a judge lifted a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit brought by city unions.
Judge Laurence Love sided with the city, finding municipal unions "will be unable to establish a likelihood of ultimate success on the merits."
Since school started two weeks ago, more than 1,100 students and 500 staff members have tested positive for COVID.
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