The start of the school year coincides with several milestones in the city’s pandemic recovery that depend on vaccine mandates.
Nearly all of the city’s 300,000 employees will need to return to their workplaces, in person, on Monday when the city completes remote work. Most will need to get vaccinated or undergo weekly Covid-19 tests to stay in their jobs.
The city was also prepared to begin enforcing rules that require workers and customers to be vaccinated to enter the interior in restaurants, museums, gyms and entertainment venues. The vaccination requirement has been in place for weeks, but had not been enforced before.
There will also be a vaccine mandate, with no testing option, for teachers, although they have been given until September 27 to receive their first vaccination.
Unlike some school districts across the country that still offer online instruction to families who prefer it, New York City officials say there will be no remote option despite the persistence of the highly communicable delta variant of Covid-19.
New York City kept schools open for most of the last school year, with some students doing a combination of remote and in-person instruction, but most families chose totally remote learning. That option will not be available this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio has insisted.
“Our children need to be in school and it is amazing that some children have not seen the inside of a classroom for a year and a half,” the mayor said Thursday. “That has huge consequences, including consequences for health care. The best and healthiest place for children is school. ”
Masks will be required for all students and staff members, as is the case in schools throughout New York State.
There is no vaccination mandate for students 12 and older who are eligible for vaccinations, but vaccinations will be required to participate in contact sports such as soccer and basketball, as well as some extracurricular activities such as band practice and drama. About two-thirds of the city’s 12 to 17-year-olds are currently vaccinated.
In the US, anyone 12 years of age or older is eligible for Covid-19 vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration’s chief of vaccines said last week that he is hopeful that children as young as 5 will be eligible to be vaccinated by the end of 2021.
De Blasio, a Democrat in his final months in office, has insisted that Covid-19 masks, cleaning protocols and random testing make school buildings safe. But it has received pushback from both parents who want their children to be home and from unions that represent teachers and other members of the school staff.
One person who called WNYC during the mayor’s weekly radio appearance on Friday said he was “absolutely out of my mind for fear of sending my 6-year-old son to school.” “We believe this is an extraordinarily safe environment,” de Blasio responded. “We have tried it and the most important thing is that our children have to come back.” When asked if some students might simply disappear from the system because their parents, concerned about viruses, would not send them to school, de Blasio said that “the great, great majority” of parents would take their children to school.
The city has been in arbitration with the United Federation of Teachers, which represents nearly 80,000 teachers in the city’s public schools, over issues that include accommodations for teachers who say they have health problems that prevent them from getting vaccinated.
The referee ruled late Friday that the city must offer out-of-classroom assignments to teachers who are not vaccinated due to medical and religious exemptions.
“As a group, teachers have overwhelmingly supported the vaccine, but we have members with medical conditions or other reasons for rejecting vaccination,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a press release.
Meanwhile, other city worker unions have opposed the mayor’s decision to order employees to return to their workplaces, saying that if they were doing their jobs well remotely, they should be allowed to continue.
The Municipal Labor Committee, a group that groups together unions representing municipal workers, has also threatened legal action if the mayor takes steps to eliminate the option of weekly virus tests for workers who choose not to get vaccinated.
And a group of restaurant and bar owners have sued over the vaccination requirement for employees and indoor meals, saying the city has exceeded its legal authority.
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