New York City Faces Learning the Hard Way as Teachers Fight the Vaccine Mandate


N.Y.C. teachers want the Supreme Court to block the vaccine mandate. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Vaccine mandates are making headlines for all the wrong reasons as Americans remain resistant, despite COVID-19’s persistence in killing the unvaccinated. In the Big Apple, a fight is being waged within the public school system between teachers and new vaccine mandates. It is a fight which may result in more than 5,000 teachers losing their jobs, exacerbating an education loss the city is still struggling to recover from after a year of remote learning. 

The mandate demands New York City teachers get vaccinated or face being unable to return to the classroom. Outraged by the federal government’s demand, teachers voiced their frustration by calling on the Supreme Court to block the mandate claiming that it violates their due process and protection rights. While the teachers expressed the compelling point of their frustration with the government forcing its constituents to become vaccinated, what is more compelling is the data showing the carnage COVID-19 continues to leave in the education system as it still shuts down schools due to coronavirus positivity rates. 

On the surface, it is easy to see why educators feel that their right to due process is being impeded upon; if they simply choose not to get vaccinated, they run the risk of losing their jobs. However, the mandate cannot truly be considered a violation of teachers’ due process since the legislation was put forth to protect the lives of teachers as well as their students. Throughout the course of 2020, attaining a vaccine to combat COVID-19 was a comforting thought for many, especially those who were desperate to find employment after being laid off during the pandemic. Considering all New Yorkers had to endure isolation not too long ago, it seems counterintuitive to fight against the vaccine that took the city out of the virus’ epicenter and now allows us to experience some semblance of normalcy. 

With schools looking to reopen after more than a year of lost time, teachers fighting against the mandate sends two very dangerous messages to students. The first is the discouragement of getting vaccinated, as students in our education system are systematically told and taught to follow the example of their teachers. Knowing teachers have so much influence over the actions of students, it is irresponsible for them to openly contest a vaccine that has been scientifically proven to boost immunity against COVID-19. This refusal could potentially put the lives of their students at risk. 

The second and most disconcerting message is that teachers’ own sense of freedom is more important than their students’ safety. With so many teachers expected to lose their jobs because of this fruitless fight, students are ultimately the ones who stand to suffer most. Many students may end up being taught by substitutes potentially lacking the teaching experience standard teachers have. 

All the signals being sent by teachers’ efforts to block the vaccine mandate will only result in further obstacles to students’ education. This fight stifles the progress NYC needs to make to compensate for a year of lost learning. Last year, COVID-19 left New York with no choice but to shut down schools and small businesses as the pandemic piled patients into already crowded hospitals. The behavior of these teachers is insulting to the parents and students who have had to suffer — financially and mentally — during the pandemic’s darkest days. 

With the Delta variant as the dominant strain in New York, the pros of having a vaccine mandate outweigh the cons, as the mandate reflects the city’s determination to control the spread of COVID-19. A year ago, too much was unknown about the virus, making it difficult for the city to devise a comprehensive coronavirus plan. Now that we have the means to mitigate the devastation COVID-19 has left behind, there is no reason the city’s leaders should not take every measure to prevent additional damage. 

With this mandate, business owners no longer have to feel like they do not have a choice when it comes to shutting down or struggling to stay afloat. Parents will be able to rest easier knowing that teachers have taken every precaution to lower the risk of transmission to students. Some students are not yet able to be vaccinated due to the age requirement. However, with vaccines widely available to adults, there is no substantial reason why teachers and staff should put the lives of their students at risk by refusing the vaccine. 

Unfortunately, this mandate does present the potential loss of city teachers. Teachers will lose their financial livelihoods if they refuse the vaccine and students will consequently lose their right to quality education. The vaccine mandate responds appropriately to the urgency of the moment, but fails to empathize with teachers who have undoubtedly suffered in some of the same ways their students have. The pressure the mandate will put on teachers may be what further breaks an already fractured school system in desperate need of fixing. 

The pandemic has taught us much about the setbacks and difficulties our school systems face when children are at risk. With a widely available and effective vaccine that continues to aid in New York’s recovery, there is no reason to learn the hard way again.

Noah Osborne, FCRH ’23, is a journalism major from Harlem, N.Y.