COVID vaccine mandate dropped for city employees, visitors to NYC public schools

A masked woman receives a shot from a doctor.
A masked woman receives a shot from a doctor. After a year and a half of mandates, New York City dropped COVID vaccine requirements for city employees and visitors to public schools. (Luis Alvarez / Getty Images)

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Visitors to New York City’s public schools will no longer have to be vaccinated, ending a year-and-a-half-old rule that had kept some parents out of school functions, Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday. 

Adams also announced that COVID vaccines will no longer be required of city workers. That means that more than 1,700 employees who were fired for not complying with vaccine mandates can apply for open positions. As of last March, about 900 education department employees had been fired; a spokesperson did not provide a more recent figure. 

That rule had invited various legal challenges and pressure from unions, including the United Federation of Teachers. Judges in several of these cases have sided with those who argued that the city’s rule was unlawful.

Vaccine requirements will also be lifted for private schools, early childhood programs, and daycare staff.

The changes will go into effect Feb. 10, after a vote from the city’s Board of Health, which is expected to approve the changes. 

“With more than 96 percent of city workers and more than 80 percent of New Yorkers having received their primary COVID-19 series and more tools readily available to keep us healthy, this is the right moment for this decision,” Adams said in a statement. “I continue to urge every New Yorker to get vaccinated, get boosted, and take the necessary steps to protect themselves and those around them from COVID-19.”

Monday’s announcement represents the Adams administration’s gradual unpeeling of COVID-related rules established under former Mayor Bill de Blasio. And for schools, it marks the end of any major remaining COVID mitigations. Prior to this, Adams had ended masking rules, vaccine mandates for student athletes and prom attendees, daily health screenings and in-school COVID testing for students and staff, and had disbanded the city’s so-called Situation Room, which informed school communities of positive COVID cases. 

Many parents have petitioned the city to end its vaccine requirement for school visitors. One parent previously told Chalkbeat that the inability to attend her child’s school was one of several factors that drove her family out of New York City. 

NeQuan McLean, president of Brooklyn’s District 16 parent council, said he supports COVID shots, noting that he and his family members are fully vaccinated. But he felt the mandate made it hard for schools to “really engage with families like they needed to,” for parents and guardians who chose not to get their vaccines.

“This is really a move back to real, authentic parent engagement because you can’t really engage over a computer,” McLean said.

Earlier this school year, officials said parent-teacher conferences would happen virtually, but parents could request in-person meetings (though those had to happen during teachers’ contractual work days). Nathaniel Styer, a spokesperson for the education department, said conferences will continue to be virtual by default “for the time being.” 

Last month, Chancellor David Banks signaled that based on the advice of health officials, he could support lifting the requirement for school building visitors, such as parents, to be vaccinated. 

Some are already criticizing the move. Dr. Jay Varma, an advisor for de Blasio during the pandemic, wrote that he was “shocked” at the news. He argued that as new people enter the workforce and unvaccinated teenagers get older, this change will mean more “illness, deaths, and costs,” since vaccination helps stem severe and fatal illness, as well as hospitalization.

Reema Amin is a reporter covering New York City schools with a focus on state policy and English language learners. Contact Reema at ramin@chalkbeat.org.

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