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Teaching Profession

In N.Y., Union Opposes Governor’s Call for a Vaccine Mandate for Teachers

By Barbara O'Brien, The Buffalo News, N.Y. — August 03, 2021 2 min read
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo discusses the wearing of masks as he speaks at a news conference in New York on May 27, 2021. A month before school starts, educators are still waiting for official health guidance from New York State and are pushing back on Cuomo's prediction there could be chaos if there's not a policy on staff vaccinations.
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A month before school starts, educators are still waiting for official health guidance from New York State, and pushing back on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s prediction there could be chaos if there’s not a policy on staff vaccinations.

Cuomo said Monday that school districts, particularly those in higher-risk areas, should have policies in which teachers should either have the vaccine or be tested.

“School opens in one month,” Cuomo said. “If you don’t set policy today, you’re going to have chaos when school opens. Because it will be impossible for a teacher to get the two shots done.”

Not so, said Hamburg Superintendent Michael Cornell, who also is the president of the Erie Niagara School Superintendents Association.

“There’s absolutely no reason to believe we’d have chaos now when we haven’t for 18 months,” he said. “There’s no reason to believe we’d have anything other than an orderly return to school in September.”

And, he noted, neither federal or state officials are talking about hybrid learning, but for children to be back in school five days a week, which is what schools are planning.

Cuomo repeated his position that all teachers should be vaccinated.

“A teacher is in front of a classroom, how many kids does a teacher interact with during the course of a day? Thirty, 40, 100, 150? That child can get the virus and go home? Why shouldn’t the teacher be vaccinated?” Cuomo said.

But New York State United Teachers don’t see it that way. The statewide teachers’ union issued a statement Monday opposing mandated vaccinations of K-12 school staff.

“We have advocated since the beginning of the year that any educator who wants a vaccine should have easy access to one,” the NYSUT statement said. “What we have not supported is a vaccine mandate.”

The union said it would support local efforts to encourage more vaccinations, such as programs that require that those who are not vaccinated get tested on a regular basis. But it said it was “critical” that districts come up with plans to make testing available for free at schools.

Schools could use some clarity on mitigation measures that take infection, hospital, and vaccination rates into account, Cornell said. That would include guidance on masks, testing, and quarantines.

“It strikes me as those are the health related operational details about which we need some guidance or parameters from the state,” Cornell said.

The New York State School Boards Association said it surveyed members in March on major issues. A question on whether to support mandatory vaccines did not receive enough support to bring it to the full membership for consideration of an official position.

But testing is another issue.

“I think that school districts would have the authority to require testing,” said David Albert, a spokesman for the school boards association. “I think districts are going to have to work within the guidance that is put out by the state, and I think that’s what everyone is waiting for.”

Copyright (c) 2021, The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

The Buffalo News Staff Reporter Keith McShea contributed to this report.

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