New York City's teachers who cite medical conditions or religious beliefs keeping them from getting a COVID-19 vaccination must be allowed either unpaid leave or a severance package, rather than being fired, according to an arbitrator's ruling seen by some as a blow to Mayor Bill de Blasio's mandate.
The ruling from mediator Martin Scheinman says the city's teachers, for the most part, can remain employed until their application for refusing a vaccine or for seeking a medical exemption, is being heard, reports the New York Post.
The decision came late Friday and found teachers who resign because they refuse to get the shots also will not immediately lose their jobs but will be able to take unpaid leave while remaining eligible for health insurance.
Further, the arbitrator ruled teachers who get their shots while they are on unpaid leave and provide proof before Nov. 30 have the right to return to the same school they left "as soon as is practicable."
However teachers are not permitted to object to the vaccine on political or philosophical grounds, the Post reported, and it places strict rules on who can be exempt for medical conditions or religious beliefs.
The city's Department of Education said it supports the arbitrator's ruling, calling it fair and supportive of the vaccine mandate.
"Given federal and state law, we believe we had to provide a narrow religious exemption," a DOE spokeswoman said. "We are pleased with the arbitration and always supported narrow and specific accommodations for those with valid medical and religious exemptions. This is consistent with what our medical experts believe is appropriate, and what we always knew would be part of the impact bargaining for our vaccine mandate."
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said after the ruling said, overall, the city's teachers "overwhelmingly supported the vaccine," but there are some union members who do have medical conditions or other reasons to turn down the shots.
"After our demand for independent arbitration, the city backed off its initial position that all unvaccinated personnel be removed from the payroll, and will offer out-of-classroom work for those with certified medical or other conditions," he said. "The city has also agreed – based on the arbitrator's determination – to create both a leave process and a severance agreement for other teachers who feel that they cannot comply with the vaccination mandate."
De Blasio announced his mandate Aug. 23, stating all school teachers and staff members must have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot by Sept. 27. School opens in the city Monday.
De Blasio announced Aug. 23, all DOE staffers need to receive at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27. Students return to Big Apple public school classrooms for the start of the school year Monday.
Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter said officials are pleased the binding arbitration statement was issued before school started, and "we will swiftly implement the terms."
She also pointed out there are "more than 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."
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