New York City orders vaccine mandate for staff at yeshivas, other private schools

Directive from mayor’s office comes amid fears of Omicron variant; workers have until Dec. 20 to show proof of 1st dose; Jewish schools are largest group of private schools in city

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Ultra-Orthodox men protest COVID-19 vaccine requirements in New York City, November 11, 2021. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Ultra-Orthodox men protest COVID-19 vaccine requirements in New York City, November 11, 2021. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — New York City announced on Thursday that employees at yeshivas and other private schools will need to be vaccinated against COVID, as the city gears up to stop the new Omicron variant.

The mayor’s office said the school employees will need to show proof of their first vaccine dose by December 20.

The ruling will affect some 56,000 employees in 938 schools.

“We’re doing everything in our power to protect our students and school staff, and a mandate for nonpublic school employees will help keep our school communities and youngest New Yorkers safe,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

The announcement came after New York officials sounded alarm bells over the spread of the Omicron variant in New York.

Shortly after de Blasio’s announcement, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said five cases of Omicron had been identified in New York State, including four in New York City.

“We should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city,” the mayor’s office said.

Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella group for US Orthodox Jews, blasted the mayor’s decision as unnecessary and harmful.

“The impact of imposing a mandate could be devastating to our schools and the children they serve” by causing the removal of a small number of educators, the group said in an open letter to de Blasio.

The group said the school system encourages vaccinations, the vast majority of staff is fully vaccinated and transmission rates in schools are “extremely low.”

Yaffed, a nonprofit that seeks to reform the yeshiva system, welcomed the decision, but said “mandates without enforcement do not work.”

Jewish schools are the largest group of private schools in New York City, educating around 110,000 students.

Public school staff was already required to be vaccinated in the city, along with all city employees, including police and firefighters. Students do not need to be vaccinated.

Some Brooklyn neighborhoods with large ultra-Orthodox populations, including Williamsburg, Borough Park and Crown Heights, have below average vaccination rates, according to city data. Ultra-Orthodox communities were hit particularly hard by the virus in the early months of the pandemic.

Regulations governing yeshivas have long been a flashpoint between ultra-Orthodox communities and local authorities, and COVID-19 restrictions sparked significant turmoil last year.

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