- New York City Public Schools this week announced it would mandate vaccines or routine weekly testing for all municipal workers, including teachers and school staff, one week after announcing a similar requirement for frontline health workers. "September is when people come back from the summer," said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a press conference, adding "every single city employee" must be vaccinated by the first full day of school.
- In a similar move, California will require vaccinations for state and healthcare employees — and while it has yet to issue a mandate for teachers, Gov. Gavin Newsom encouraged employers to adopt such policies. San Jose Unified School District announced independently it will require teachers to get inoculated, according to local news reports.
- The decisions contrast with many red states' moves to ban vaccination mandates. However, in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis banned vaccine mandates through an executive order, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has moved to implement mask and vaccine mandates despite such efforts.
The debate over vaccination requirements is the latest controversy dividing the education community and leaders at all levels of government. It follows other politically charged debates over mask requirements and state and district decisions to reopen schools without remote options.
In Orange County, Florida, Demings announced nonunion county employees must have both shots by the end of September, and an agreement on mandates for unionized employees such as teachers is pending. Orange County Classroom Teachers Association President Wendy Doromal said she suspects her own association may be divided on vaccination preferences.
In an email, Doromal said "this issue would have to be bargained" first.
Meanwhile, state-level and local decisions to ban masking mandates and vaccination requirements could impact the return to school in the fall. "We are going to lose more teachers and students because the district removed even minimal protective procedures, even as COVID-19 cases surge," Doromal said. "The school board and district leaders appear to be acting as if the pandemic has ended. It has not."
States and localities that have banned such requirements cite a slew of reasons, including the argument that not everyone has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, that mandates for the vaccine would infringe on individual freedoms — a reason often cited by those also opposing mask mandates — and patient privacy.
The alternative to requiring vaccination, however, would be routine testing, according to emerging policies.
"Vaccination and testing have helped keep schools among the safest places in the city," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, New York City's teacher union, in a statement. "This approach puts the emphasis on vaccination but still allows for personal choice and provides additional safeguards through regular testing."
School district leaders in many areas are still awaiting direction from state-level leaders before announcing vaccination mandates. Jennifer Thomsen, director of policy for the Education Commission of the States, which regularly tracks state education policies, said in an email that "states have taken various approaches in their legislation with big variations in specificity."
Rather than requiring vaccinations, most, if not all, states with legislation pending have sought to prohibit vaccination mandates, vaccine passports or both, she added. The organization has also largely seen legislation prohibiting mandates on student vaccination, rather than school staff.
"I haven’t actually seen any bills pass that require vaccinations," Thomsen said.