96% of NYC schools teachers now vaccinated after mandate

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- A federal judge in Manhattan has agreed to hear another request to halt New York City's vaccine mandate for public school employees after the order officially went into effect on Monday.

A group of 10 teachers, educators and administrators filed an emergency motion Monday for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prevent the city from further enforcing the mandate.

"This policy is reckless, senseless, and not only violates the fundamental rights of thousands of New Yorkers but will also put over 1 million New York City public school children at risk of imminent harm," the petition said.

Without it, the plaintiffs said 15,000 public school staff members - 10% of the workforce - would lose their jobs, a figure at odds with the Department of Education which said 95% of employees received at least one dose of vaccine by Monday morning.

The case will be in federal court in lower Manhattan at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Some people vocally opposed to vaccine mandates did protest Monday. Video posted to social media showed demonstrators marching in locations around the city, including outside a Department of Education building in Brooklyn, carrying signs saying things such as: "Resist Medical Tyranny!"

Another video showed people overturning a COVID-19 testing facility's tent and table as the protesters marched passed it.

Earlier, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 95% of full-time employees had received at least one shot. However, about 3,700 substitute teachers were needed Monday.

The mayor said 96% of teachers and 99% of principals were vaccinated, and some schools were reporting 100% of teachers were on the job.

"Every adult in our schools is now vaccinated," de Blasio said. "(The mandate) clearly works."

Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said 18,000 new shots have been given out since September 24, and that unvaccinated employees can still get their shots and return to work.

"New York City schools are the safest places to be," Porter said.

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UFT President Michael Mulgrew said his members are above 97% vaccination and close to their average daily attendance, but the unvaccinated UFT members are not equally distributed. He said there are pockets of staffing concern, mostly on Staten Island, and specifically in District 75 special needs schools on the borough's south shore.

School principals spent the weekend planning to fill staffing shortages, and Mulgrew estimated about 1,000 more teachers were vaccinated over the weekend.

The education department says 9,000 vaccinated substitute teachers and 5,000 vaccinated substitute paraprofessionals are available to fill in where needed.

Also Monday, District Council 37, which is New York City's largest public sector employee union, and the Department of Education announced a vaccination agreement for nearly 20,000 employees.

Union members who have not provided proof of at least one dose of the vaccine will have the option to resign or take a leave of absence, and employees who wish to apply for a medical or religious exemptions must do so by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, October 5.

As of Sunday, October 3, 93% of DC 37's almost 20,000 DOE workers had provided proof of at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That is up significantly from 68% at the beginning of September.

For those who have yet gotten the vaccine, the following options are now available to them:

--Beginning October 4, 2021 through October 29, 2021, employees have the option to resign. Such employees will be eligible to be reimbursed for unused sick leave on a one-for-one basis, up to 100 days. Employees who choose this option will remain eligible for health benefits through September 5, 2022, unless they have health insurance available from another source.

--Employees can apply for a medical or religious exemption. If the application for a medical or religious exemption is denied, the applicant has 48 hours to appeal the decision unless additional time is requested and granted. While the exemption/accommodation review process and/or any appeal is pending the individual shall remain on leave without pay with health benefits. Those employees who are vaccinated and have applied for an accommodation will have the ability to use sick and/or annual leave while their application and appeal are pending, should the appeal be granted, these employees will be reimbursed any sick and/or annual leave used retroactive to the date of their initial application. Employees who receive an exemption will remain on payroll and maintain their health benefits. The DOE may temporarily assign these employees to work in non-school DOE buildings, such as DOE Central, or temporarily detail the employee to perform work for another City agency that is not subject to a vaccination mandate.

--Employees without proof of vaccination who do not opt for either of the above options will automatically be placed on a leave of absence without pay beginning today, October 4, 2021 through November 30, 2021 (or until proof of vaccination is provided). Employees will maintain their health insurance benefits during this time and are prohibited from engaging in gainful employment during the leave period. During the period of November 1 through November 30, 2021, any employee who is on leave without pay due to vaccination status may opt to extend the leave through September 5, 2022.

Any soon-to-be birth mother who starts the third trimester of pregnancy on or before October 1, 2021 (e.g. has a due date no later than January 1, 2022), may utilize sick leave, annual leave, and/or compensatory time prior to the child's birth date, but not before October 1, 2021. Upon giving birth, they shall be eligible for paid family leave or FMLA in accordance with existing law and rules. In the event that an eligible employee exhausts accrued leave prior to giving birth, that employee shall be placed on a leave without pay, but with medical benefits at least until the birth of the child.

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(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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