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De Blasio’s Push to Vaccinate NYC Public School Staff Off to a Slow Start

Mayor Bill de Blasio toured PS 59 in Brooklyn, Sept. 2, 2020.
Mayor Bill de Blasio toured P.S. 59 in Brooklyn, Sept. 2, 2020.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Officer

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters.


Mayor Bill de Blasio wants teachers and other school staff to begin receiving coronavirus vaccines this month, he said Monday.

“I want in the month of January — in the next few weeks — I want to see us start to vaccinate educators and school staff,” de Blasio said. “We need to reach many more people quickly, urgently, and it can be done.”

The mayor, however, does not have the power to make that happen on his own since state officials determine the order of the vaccination rollout — and the city has struggled to quickly deliver the vaccines it currently has on hand.

Vaccinating teachers may allow the city to offer more opportunities for in-person instruction. Only students in grades pre-K through five and those with the most complex disabilities are currently attending in-person classes.

Targeting school staff could also help quell educators’ concerns about teaching in person — especially as coronavirus infection rates have risen significantly in recent weeks, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo no longer plans to impose systemwide closures if the city’s seven day coronavirus positivity rate exceeded 9%.

Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

On Monday, he backed away from the threshold he announced this summer, and instead said local districts can determine whether they keep school buildings open.

But the state might be the final arbiter as to whether New York City teachers can begin getting vaccinated this month.

State officials determine when various groups are eligible for vaccines, and educators are not listed in the first phase of the rollout, which focuses on groups such as nursing home residents and staff and frontline medical personnel.

State officials have previously listed teachers in the second phase of vaccine distribution, but it’s unclear when that will start.

Another question is whether the city will be able to spin up its vaccine infrastructure fast enough to begin reaching teachers this month.

‘Bureaucratic Snarls’ Faulted

So far, the city is off to a slow start and has only administered about a quarter of the vaccines it has been allocated, which drew ire from state officials, though de Blasio vowed to quickly ramp up the city’s vaccination efforts.

Union officials have also expressed some skepticism over the mayor’s prediction that vaccines will enable many more students to return to classrooms this spring. “I don’t think it’s around the corner,” UFT chief Michael Mulgrew told the New York Times last month.

But vaccinating school staff was paramount, he believes.

“The real answer for New York is making the vaccine immediately available to all school personnel,” he said in a statement on Monday. “We can’t let bureaucratic snarls and procedural delays endanger the safety of students, school staff and their families.”

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew speaks at a City Hall press conference about delaying the reopening of schools, Sept. 1, 2020.
United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew speaks at a City Hall news conference, Sept. 1, 2020.
Screengrab/NYC Mayor’s Office/YouTube

City officials said Monday the city would open 250 vaccine sites by the end of the month, up from 125. They are using shuttered high school buildings as vaccine hubs, launching this Sunday at the Bushwick Educational Campus in Brooklyn, Hillcrest High School in Queens, and the South Bronx Educational Campus, de Blasio said.

The mayor has offered no timeline on reopening high school buildings to students. Middle schools remain remote-only as well with no timeline for reopening buildings.

“We were working on that plan,” de Blasio said. “But job one is to get this vaccination effort going and to fight back this immediate wave we’re having with the coronavirus.”

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