New York City will require all Department of Education employees to have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by Sept. 27, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. The announcement represents a major step in the effort to fully reopen the country’s largest school district next month, and a significant escalation of the mayor’s push to vaccinate more New Yorkers.
Mr. de Blasio has put reopening city schools at the center of his plan to help New York recover from the pandemic. The mayor is eager to reassure anxious parents and educators that schools will be safe this year despite an uptick in cases in the last two months linked to the Delta variant, especially since the city is no longer offering a remote learning option.
The city’s vaccine requirement, which applies to roughly 148,000 education workers, is also almost certain to be a harbinger of future mandates around the country for school districts, municipal employees, private businesses and federal government agencies in the days and weeks to come, following the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those 16 and older on Monday.
Speaking on Monday afternoon, President Biden called for broader vaccine mandates across private companies and government agencies, and said it was essential for as many adults as possible to be vaccinated in order to keep students safe in school.
The F.D.A.’s approval has already set off a flurry of activity.
Within minutes, it triggered student vaccination mandates at the State University of New York and City University of New York, along with similar requirements announced by the University of Minnesota system and Louisiana State University.
The Pentagon announced that the country’s 1.4 million active-duty troops would have to be vaccinated. Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said that all teachers in that state would have to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. The oil and gas giant Chevron and the pharmacy chain C.V.S. both said they would require some of their employees to receive coronavirus vaccinations.
A joint statement by the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association called the F.D.A. approval “a major step forward in the worldwide effort to end this pandemic.”
Mr. de Blasio issued the mandate for education workers just moments before the F.D.A.’s decision was announced, as the city looks to finalize its plans this week for school reopening. Schools open at full capacity for the city’s roughly 1 million students on Sept. 13.
The requirement applies to almost all adults in city school buildings, including teachers, principals, custodians, school safety agents and central staff.
Education employees are now the first group of New York City workers to face a full vaccine mandate. Last month, the city issued a mandate for all municipal workers that allowed those who were unvaccinated to opt into weekly testing, an option that remains in place for those who don’t work in schools.
But Monday’s announcement opens the door to a broader vaccine mandate for city workers, including police officers, which the mayor said the city was considering. About 69 percent of adults in New York City are fully vaccinated.
“We know this is going to help ensure that everyone is safe,” Mr. de Blasio said during a news conference, adding that city schools had extremely low rates of virus transmission last year. The mandate, the mayor said, will help the city “build on that success.”
New York City joins Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as Washington State and Oregon, which have all announced full vaccine mandates for teachers in the last few weeks.
In New York, Mr. de Blasio’s push is largely supported by educators, many of whom are concerned about returning to full-capacity schools amid the Delta surge, and by the city’s powerful teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers. The city is still negotiating with the U.F.T. and other unions representing education staff over what will happen to employees who do not comply with the mandate.
Mr. de Blasio announced last month that educators who did not comply with the vaccination or testing requirement would be suspended without pay, and a similar consequence is likely for those who refuse to be vaccinated under the new mandate.
On Monday evening, District Council 37, the union that represents classroom aides, school lunch staff and other school employees, said that it would file a formal complaint against the city over the vaccine mandate.
“While we strongly encourage our members to get vaccinated, we do not believe that the city has the legal authority to change the terms and conditions of employment without bargaining,” Henry Garrido, D.C. 37’s president, said in a statement.
But on Monday, Michael Mulgrew, the president of the U.F.T., said that the city had the legal right to create such a mandate, and added only that key details were still being hashed out.
“While the city is asserting its legal authority to establish this mandate, there are many implementation details, including provisions for medical exceptions, that by law must be negotiated with the U.F.T. and other unions, and if necessary, resolved by arbitration,” Mr. Mulgrew said. The leader of the city’s principals’ union echoed that message in his own statement.
But Mr. de Blasio insisted that even if bargaining was stalled or did not succeed, the mandate would still go forward.
The mayor and Meisha Porter, the schools chancellor, said they expected a high level of compliance from school staff on the new mandate, which was reflected in conversations with teachers across the city who said they strongly supported it. “I do not expect a staffing shortage,” Ms. Porter said.
Still, at least some D.O.E. employees who have resisted getting the vaccine said they were thinking about quitting before the start of the school year.
Carlotta Pope, a high school English teacher in Brooklyn who has not been vaccinated, said she would consider teaching in a district that did not have vaccine mandates.
“You’re telling me now I have to remove my right” to decide whether to be vaccinated, she said. “Me personally, I won’t be a part of that.” Ms. Pope said she was considering getting vaccinated but she was frustrated that she would no longer have a choice if she wished to keep her job.
But many teachers greeted the news with relief.
Mike Loeb, a middle school science teacher in the Bronx, said knowing that all adults working in schools would be vaccinated come fall would lessen his anxiety about seeing hallways and classrooms at full capacity again, after a year when many children were learning from home.
“If we’re vaccinated, if we’re masking our children and adults, I’m hopeful we can all be safe,” he said. Mr. Loeb said only a tiny minority of his students performed as well online last year as they would have in person.
Mr. de Blasio has been adamant that all students would return to in-person learning, and he is eager to demonstrate that New York City can fully reopen schools while avoiding bitter debates about mask mandates and other issues that have roiled districts across the country. The mayor announced in May that all students and staff would have to wear masks in schools at all times, a policy with broad support here.
But Mr. de Blasio’s goal of a smoother reopening than last year could be threatened by his administration’s delay in announcing key details on how schools will approach testing, the quarantining of those who test positive and educating students who are under temporary quarantines.
With just three weeks left until the first day of school, families and educators say they are desperate for more information. The mayor has promised to announce details later this week, but he has already said the city would not offer a remote learning option, despite the objections of some parents.
The mayor also said on Monday that broad vaccine mandates for eligible students were “not on the table.” On Friday, the city said that about 20,000 high school athletes who participate in high-risk sports like basketball and football would have to be vaccinated by the start of their sports seasons.
The precise percentage of teachers who have been vaccinated is still unknown. City officials have said that more than 63 percent of all Department of Education employees are vaccinated, but they have said that figure does not include employees who got their shots outside New York City. About 75 percent of teachers who live in New York City have received at least one dose of a vaccine. By contrast, only about 43 percent of Police Department employees have been vaccinated.
Mr. Mulgrew has estimated that 70 or even 80 percent of his members are vaccinated, regardless of where they live, but his union also lacks definitive numbers.
The new mandate will end the guessing game.
Reporting was contributed by Tracey Tully, Helene Cooper, Stephanie Saul and Daniel E. Slotnik.