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NYC Must Give Teachers With Medical And Religion Exemptions Non-Classroom Work, Arbitrator Finds

An arbitrator has ruled that New York City must offer teachers with certain medical and religious exemptions non-classroom assignments, after the teachers' union argued that the city's requirement that all school employees—teachers, administrators, and other staff—must be vaccinated by September 27th was "draconian."

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federations for Teachers, said in a statement, “As a group, teachers have overwhelmingly supported the vaccine, but we have members with medical conditions or other reasons for declining vaccination. After our demand for independent arbitration, the city backed off its initial position that all unvaccinated personnel be removed from payroll, and will offer out-of-classroom work for those with certified medical or other conditions."

Teachers can apply for medical and religious exemptions by September 20th. The arbitrator (decision here) outlined the process for determining medical exceptions allowed and noted that religious exemptions must be delivered in writing from religious officials—and requests will be denied for any religions where leaders have encouraged vaccines. Personal, political, or philosophical beliefs are not grounds for exemptions, according to the arbitration.

Mulgrew also said that the city will now "create both a leave process and a severance agreement for other teachers who feel that they cannot comply with the vaccination mandate."

“Our vaccine mandate was put into place for the health and safety of our children, and the protection of our employees," Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said in a statement. "We’re pleased that the binding Arbitration was issued before the first day of school and we will swiftly implement the terms. There will be over 700 vaccination sites in our schools across the City every day next week, and we encourage all DOE employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible."

As of this week, the mayor's office says about 25% of teachers have yet to be vaccinated.

School employees who do not apply for medical or religious exemptions and do not have at least one vaccine dose by September 27th will be removed from payroll by September 28th, and then they are either allowed to resign by November 30th or take an extended leave without pay until September 5th, 2022 (those unvaccinated employees will continue to keep their health insurance until next summer). If an employee on leave without pay gets at least one dose of the vaccine, they can return to their school.

Other city employees, who are required to return to work on September 13th, are mandated to either be vaccinated or to submit to weekly testing.

The city is not offering remote options for learning when public schools open on Monday, September 13th, which has frustrated families of medically-vulnerable children. The de Blasio administration has emphasized that children need to be in schools for socialization. While the city has not mandated inoculations for students ages 12 and up yet, students participating in the Public Student Athletic League (PSAL) and higher-risk extracurriculars, like chorus, musical theater, and cheerleading must be vaccinated.

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