What to Know
- New York City had given public school employees until 5 p.m. Friday to get at least their first vaccine shot, or face suspension without pay when schools open on Monday
- Teachers opposed to the city’s vaccine mandate for public school educators and other staff filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking an emergency injunction that would keep it from going into effect
- That group faced another defeat near the end of the business day Friday when Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied the request
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has denied a request from New York City teachers hoping to get a last minute injunction to stop the city's vaccine mandate for educators and school staff.
New York City's roughly 148,000 school employees had until 5 p.m. to get at least their first COVID-19 vaccine shot, or face suspension without pay when schools open on Monday.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio says the number of unvaccinated employees is shrinking -- as of Friday morning, 90% of Department of Education employees, 93% of teachers and 98% of principals have had at least one dose of a vaccine. For teachers in particular, that's up three percentage points from just last Monday.
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The vaccination deadline had been delayed from Monday to Friday after a back-and-forth legal battle between the city and a group of teachers who oppose the mandate. That anti-mandate group sought to receive an emergency injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court to block the implementation of the city's vaccine mandate.
The petition asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is the circuit justice for this part of the country, to issue an emergency injunction blocking the mandate, which they claim would force thousands of public school employees out of work if it were to remain in place. Late Friday, the justice denied the request without referring the case to the full court.
The state's order would violate a teacher's fundamental right to pursue an occupation, the lawyers told the court, and teachers who fail to get the vaccine will never be able to return to work.
Vinoo Varghese, an attorney for the teachers, said in an email late Friday, “We are disappointed, but the fight for our clients’ due process and those similarly situated will go on.”
Mayor de Blasio said he was confident courts would uphold the city's efforts to exclude unvaccinated staff from school buildings, where they might infect co-workers or children too young to get the shots.
The previous block to the mandate had prompted the mayor to reimplement the policy weekly testing for staff who do not produce proof of vaccination.
As of Monday, de Blasio had said 87 percent of all DOE personnel were at least partially vaccinated, including 90 percent of teachers and 97 percent of principals. The UFT said 97 percent of its members are at least partially vaccinated as well.
The battle over the safety of city classrooms is occurring as the state of New York is sparring in court with opponents of its vaccine mandate for workers at hospitals and nursing homes.
Courts allowed the mandate to go forward, but a federal judge in central New York has temporarily barred employers from enforcing it against people who have religious objections to getting the shots. Only a small slice of health care workers have sought a religious exemption.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan issued an order Thursday that the stay on enforcement against people with religious objections will remain in effect until an appeal is resolved. It scheduled arguments for Oct. 14.
More than 15,000 nursing home patients have died in New York during the pandemic. Health officials have said many of those patients were probably infected by nursing home staff before vaccines became available.