Louis Gelormino represents teacher and lead plaintiff teacher Rachel Maniscalco and others.
"I'm not anti-vax," he said. "Most of the teachers are not anti-vax. They are anti-mandate...All we are asking for is a choice, a very simple choice."
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Gelormino noted teachers outside of the city public school system are not subject to the same restrictions.
"Judge, all we are asking is to be put in the same position as other teachers in New York State," he said.
One judge said parents don't have a choice to send their children to public school and must be ensured a safe environment, while another said the city is merely attempting to respond to the pandemic.
"Let's give it a couple years before we mandate it," Gelormino said. "All we are asking for is a reasonable choice, with the same goal as the city, to protect the children. Testing options are a reasonable choice. It's considered reasonable almost everywhere else in the country. It's considered reasonable for the rest of the teachers in New York state. It's considered reasonable for the rest of our municipal workers, who deal in a much riskier area because they are not dealing with children. They are dealing with the people more inclined to get the diseases."
But city lawyers said teachers do not have a "right to work."
"There simply is no fundamental right to work for the city unvaccinated," attorney Susan Paulson said. "The city has no interest in losing committed, career public school teachers, zero interest. But the city's primary interest is the education and protection of the school children."
Another attorney for the plaintiffs, Mark Fonte, argued that the mandate is coercion.
"For some of these teachers, it's saying, look, either I put food on the table for myself and my kids, or I get the vaccination," he said. "That is the epitome of coercion."
The judges said they will reserve their decision.
Meantime, the other major court case -- the health care workers fighting the mandate -- was set to be heard Thursday in Lower Manhattan.
A panel of judges were to debate whether health care workers can skip the vaccine if they claim a religious exemption, but for unknown reasons, the case was adjourned for 13 days.
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New York State's vaccine mandate does not allow for religious exemptions, but three nurses, one from Syracuse and two from Syosset, sued, claiming they didn't want to take the vaccine because of their Catholic faith.
They object to the use of embryonic stem cells in the vaccine's development.
A federal appeals court panel put the mandate on hold until the next hearing, which is now delayed.
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