Religious, non-public schools push back against new NYC COVID vaccine mandate

Coronavirus update for NYC
NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The Committee of New York City Religious and Independent Schools is firing back Friday after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new COVID-19 vaccine mandate that will require all nonpublic school employees to get their first shot by December 20.

It affects roughly 56,000 employees of 938 yeshivas, Catholic schools and other private schools.

"Many of our schools view COVID vaccination as a matter most appropriately left to individual choice, not governmental fiat," Chairman Rabbi David Zwiebel wrote. "This is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce."

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The membership consists of the leadership of the schools affiliated with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and the Brooklyn Diocese, Islamic schools, Lutheran schools, Greek Orthodox schools, Adventist schools, Historically Black Independent Schools and Jewish schools.

Roughly 250,000 students are enrolled.

"The practical impact of the city imposing an immunization mandate could be devastating to our schools and the children they serve," Zwiebel wrote. "The reality is that the small percentage of school employees who have chosen not to vaccinate have made a personal choice based on their individual circumstances and personal values. Surely at least some of them will continue to resist vaccination even if the city imposes a vaccination mandate - whereupon, pursuant to the terms of the mandate, they will be terminated from their jobs."

Zwiebel warned the mandate would cause a staffing shortage that could force schools to close.

"In an era when finding high quality teachers and staff is so difficult even at the beginning of the school year, finding high quality replacement staff in the middle of the school year may be impossible," he said.

Still, the city seemed intent on moving ahead with the mandate.

"Vaccinations are the key to our recovery, and our public schools are among the safest places to be in the city," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "Childcare centers will now be just as safe, and it's time to use the tools we have at our disposal to climb the ladder even further. We're doing everything in our power to protect our students and school staff, and a mandate for nonpublic school employees will help keep our school communities and youngest New Yorkers safe."

Officials say the mandate is in alignment with recommendations from the CDC, which has recommended that school teachers and staff be vaccinated as soon as possible.

The city will work collaboratively with school leaders in the weeks leading up to the mandate going into effect, ensuring vaccinations are easily accessible and school operations can continue to run smoothly.

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"The health and safety of our children is paramount and we are extending our vaccine mandate to ensure all schools are protected from COVID-19," Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said. "All teachers and school staff should get vaccinated as soon as possible. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and save lives."

The city will offer vaccines to any schools that request it, and vaccinations will be offered to interested eligible students as well as staff at the school.

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