A coalition of private and religious schools reportedly opposed New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio's COVID-19 vaccination mandate following threats faced by their employees.
The Catholic News Agency said the New York State Coalition for Independent and Religious Schools wrote a letter addressed to De Blasio and Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi opposing the mandate. The coalition expressed its support for the vaccines and appreciation of the city's efforts to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus, especially in the face of the new Omicron variant.
However, the coalition pointed out that making vaccination a condition for employment is an overreach.
The coalition's move is in reaction to De Blasio's announcement last Dec. 6 that employees of private sectors would be required to be vaccinated beginning Dec. 27. The mandate, which is expected to affect 184,000 businesses in New York City, is part of the "fight against COVID-19" through a "bold, first-in-the-nation measures" designed to keep "communities safe."
New York City Religious and Independent School Officials Committee Chairman Rabbi David Zwiebel, who is signatory of the coalition's letter, reminded De Blasio that the government's role has boundaries and emphasized that vaccination is "most appropriately" an individual's choice.
"While we support and generally encourage Covid vaccination in our schools, and while in fact most of our schools' employees are so vaccinated, none of our schools insist upon such vaccination as a condition of employment," Zwiebel said.
"(Vaccination) is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce," he stressed.
Zwiebel said that the mandate would only cause devastation to schools and to its students since only a percentage of the staff have opted not to be vaccinated. He explained that the personal values and varying circumstances are often the reason why some employees remain unvaccinated. These employees will continue to resist vaccination even in the face of the mandate that would actually cause them their jobs, which in turn will have a negative effect on the operations of the school.
In particular, Zwiebel said this would mean finding the same high quality teachers to fill-in their posts that is "impossible" being in the middle of the school year. Zwiebel raised that options to the mandate could be made so that individual rights and school operations could flourish while curtailing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
"However, there are ways to try to move toward that goal short of a mandate, ways that will not interfere with the value of personal choice and will not risk the wholesale loss of teachers and other school employees. The religious and independent school community respectfully urges you to reconsider," Zwiebel said.
The New York State Coalition for Independent and Religious Schools includes the Agudath Israel of America, Association of Christian Schools International, The Jewish Education Project, New York State Association of Independent Schools, New York State Catholic Conference, and the Lutheran Schools Association.
The Diocese of Brooklyn, which belongs to the New York State Catholic Conference, expressed opposition to the mandate out of respect for individual choice. Diocese of Brooklyn Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Chadzutko revealed that Catholic schools from Brooklyn and Queens have already joined the coalition because of the mandate.
Diocese of Brooklyn Deputy Press Secretary John Quaglione raised in an interview with the Catholic News Agency that they did not actually receive any notification from De Blasio regarding the mandates prior to his announcement. They are waiting for the mayor's Executive Order that they just downloaded from the city's website.