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NY archdiocese waiting to respond to city’s private school worker vaccine mandate

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The Archdiocese of New York is awaiting formal notification of the city’s mandate that private school teachers be vaccinated against COVID-19 before determining its response to the directive.

“We are aware of Mayor de Blasio’s announcement regarding vaccine mandates for all teachers and school staffs in New York City, including those in religious, private, and other non-governmental schools,” the Office of the Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of New York said in a Dec. 8 statement to CNA.

“Once we receive formal notification from the City, we will review the mandate to determine this order’s relevance and applicability to our Catholic schools, and any potential response.”

The archdiocese’s schools office added that “An increasing majority of our teachers and school staffs have already been vaccinated, and we continue to urge others to do so; those that are not vaccinated are tested weekly.”

“Our students, families, teachers, and administrators should be assured that our schools in New York City and beyond will remain open for safe, in-person instruction, as we have done for the past year, with a rate of nearly zero COVID transmission in our buildings,” the statement concluded.

Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Dec. 6 announcement of the mandate was anticipated, as the mayor had said Dec. 2 that private school employees were going to need to be vaccinated in the near future, the AP reported.

Mitch Schwartz, First Deputy Press Secretary to Mayor Bill de Blasio, said that staff at private businesses and private schools need one dose of the vaccine by Dec. 27.

The New York Times reported that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York spoke to de Blasio on the phone before the mayor’s announcement of the mandate. CNA inquired about the contents of the call; however, details of the exchange were not revealed in the archdiocese’s statement.

The mandate also applies to schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

On Dec. 2, Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said that while they have “placed great emphasis on getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” they respect each individual’s right to make their own decision, adding that “we have and continue to remain opposed to any such mandate.”

Chadzutko wrote that on Dec. 2, Catholic schools and academies in Brooklyn and Queens joined a “coalition of religious and independent schools throughout New York City asking the Mayor and Health Commissioner to reconsider plans to implement a vaccine mandate.”

That coalition, the New York State Coalition for Independent and Religious Schools, sent a letter to de Blasio and to Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi asking them to reconsider the mandate.

The letter, authored by Rabbi David Zwiebel, chairman of the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials, says that the schools generally encourage vaccination, but do not “insist upon vaccination as a condition of  employment.”

Vaccination is a choice “most appropriately” left to the individual, the letter said, adding that vaccination “is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce.”

The letter, which states that “most of our schools’ employees” are vaccinated, said that imposing a mandate could be “devastating” to schools and children. Only a small percentage of staff at these schools, for individual circumstances or personal values, have chosen to forgo vaccination, the letter said.

Many of those who have chosen to forgo vaccination will be sure to resist vaccination, even if a mandate comes, which will cause them to be terminated from their jobs, the letter said.

“As a result,” the letter said, schools will be put in a difficult position of filling vacancies with high quality teachers and staff, which could be “impossible” in the middle of the school year.

Recognizing the danger of the Omicron variant, the letter acknowledged the mandate’s goal of hampering the spread of COVID-19.

“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 letter concluded. “The religious and independent school community respectfully urges you to reconsider.”

John Quaglione, the Deputy Press Secretary for the Diocese of Brooklyn, told CNA on Monday that the diocese received no official notification from the mayor prior to his announcement and had yet to be sent the Executive Order directly from the health department or the mayor’s office.

“We were able to download the Executive Order from the mayor’s website, otherwise, we still would not know what it says or entails,” Quaglione added.

De Blasio, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, said that he is “confident” the mandate will withstand any legal challenges that might come its way.

Alexandra Sullivan, a parent with children in New York archdiocesan schools, told CNA on Monday that de Blasio’s mandate is “alarming.”

“Catholic teaching holds that vaccination must be voluntary and that no one should be coerced into a decision against their informed conscience,” Sullivan said. “Teachers employed by the Catholic Church should be afforded the freedom to exercise their conscience.”

Sullivan said that the mandate causes “worry” for parents who are concerned that there will be a future mandate for children to be vaccinated to attend school.

“That would be a grave and dangerous overstepping of government authority,” she added. “It is imperative that our bishops fight against such government overreach to protect their employees and to protect the children under their care in Catholic schools.”

The AP reported that there are about 56,000 employees at 938 schools in New York City to whom the mandate applies.

Both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops’ conference have said that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible when recipients have no other ethical option due to the gravity of the pandemic. Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an “act of love.” In December 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note stating that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible but “must be voluntary”; the note recognized “reasons of conscience” for refusing vaccines.

 

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