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Vaccine mandate & exemptions

COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine mandate deadline: The mayor gave DOE staff until Friday, Oct. 1 to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A federal appeals court lifted the temporary restraining order against the mandate and gave the city the green light to proceed with the requirement. UFT members should make sure they have uploaded proof of vaccination to the DOE’s vaccination portal. Employees who do not have an approved exemption and have not submitted proof of vaccination will be removed by the DOE from payroll and placed automatically on unpaid leave starting Oct. 4.  

Vaccine & testing requirements

What are the requirements for school staff to be vaccinated as schools reopen in the fall?

The city had originally ordered all DOE employees to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27, but recently extended the deadline to Fri, Oct. 1. You must provide proof of your vaccine dose through the DOE’s Vaccination Portal. The mandate applies to per diem employees and all contracted employees who work in DOE buildings. It does not apply to school bus drivers or DOE staff working in 3K and preschools located in non-DOE buildings. 

Hasn't a temporary restraining order been issued against the city's vaccine mandate? 

The temporary restraining order was lifted and a federal appeals panel upheld the city's vaccine mandate on Sept. 27. The city extended the mandate for DOE employees to Oct. 1.

How can I submit proof of my COVID-19 vaccination? What documentation is acceptable?

You must submit proof of vaccination using the DOE’s Vaccination Portal. Your information will be kept confidential. Proof of vaccination can be an image of your vaccination card, the New York State Excelsior Pass or other government record.

If you are granted a religious or medical exemption, or awaiting the result of an appeal, and are therefore not required to be vaccinated, must you continue to be tested for COVID-19?

If you are granted a religious or medical exemption, or awaiting the result of an appeal, you will be placed in a non-school DOE building as of Monday, Oct. 4. At this point, you will be tested twice weekly until such time as you are vaccinated and can return to a school building.

Medical accommodations

How would I qualify for a medical accommodation this school year? Where would I work if I am granted an accommodation?

Vaccinated UFT members with weakened immune systems due to a documented medical condition may qualify for a medical accommodation. The online application form went live on SOLAS as of Monday, Sept. 13 and members had until 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20, to apply. These requests must be documented in writing by a medical doctor. The documentation must include a diagnosis. If the accommodation is approved, the immunocompromised member must be offered work that meets their medical needs, possibly in a non-school building for as long as their medical condition lasts.

Medical & religious exemptions

How would I qualify for a permanent medical exemption from taking the COVID-19 vaccine?

Permanent medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate will only be considered where the individual has a documented allergic reaction such that the member cannot receive any of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines. The online application form for a medical exemption went live on SOLAS on Monday, Sept. 13. UFT members had until 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20, to apply.

Temporary medical exemptions may also be granted to those who may need to delay taking the vaccine, such as those undergoing specific medical treatments or who recently were diagnosed with COVID-19 (see below).  These conditions must be documented in writing by a medical doctor. The documentation must include a diagnosis. 

I recently had COVID-19 and cannot take the vaccine before the deadline. Will I lose my job if I cannot get vaccinated right now?

Requests for a temporary medical exemption had to have been submitted on SOLAS to delay taking the vaccine. Documentation from a medical provider was required along with a diagnosis. 

Temporary exemptions may be granted:

  • within the isolation period after a positive COVID diagnosis
  • within 90 days of monoclonal antibody treatment of COVID-19

Under updated Department of Health guidance, if you have been granted a temporary medical exemption after being treated with monoclonal antibodies, you are permitted (but not required) to work in a school building during this 90-day period, as long as your isolation period has ended and you are not symptomatic.  If you wish to work in person, you should inform your principal/supervisor. If there are any questions on your eligibility to work in person while not yet vaccinated, your principal or supervisor can contact the Office of Disability Accommodations at ODA@schools.nyc.gov

I am undergoing a medical treatment that prevents me from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine right now. Will I lose my job if I cannot get vaccinated before the deadline?

Members who are undergoing active therapy or treatment, such as chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, or CAR T-cell therapy, or who have pericarditis or myocarditis, may be eligible for a temporary medical exemption. Requests for a temporary medical exemption to delay taking the vaccine were to be submitted on SOLAS by 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20, accompanied by documentation from a medical provider. The documentation must include a diagnosis

In cases where members seek exemptions for medical conditions not mentioned above, an independent arbitrator will decide if the exemption is appropriate. Members will be required to be vaccinated when the temporary condition has been removed, such as when treatment has ended, and will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

I was denied a medical/religious exemption from taking the vaccine. Can I appeal this decision? Will I keep my job while the appeal is in progress?

If denied, the member will have one school day to file a notice of appeal with additional time to submit supporting documentation. The appeal application will be available via SOLAS. An independent arbitrator will promptly review the appeal—and convene a hearing if necessary—before issuing a final determination. During the appeal process, the member will be temporarily granted the exemption and kept on payroll. If you have filed an appeal and have had difficulty or other issues regarding this process, call the UFT appeals hotline at 646-770-1917 starting on Sept. 22.

Where do I apply for a medical accommodation, or a religious or medical exemption?

The online application form for a medical accommodation or an exemption went live on SOLAS on Monday, Sept. 13. UFT members had until 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20, to apply.

How can I qualify for a religious exemption for the DOE vaccine mandate?

Exemption requests will be considered only for members who belong to recognized and established religious organizations and not where the objection is personal, political or philosophical in nature. Applications for religious exemptions must be documented in writing by clergy or a religious official.

Leaves and severance option

I am pregnant. Would I be eligible for an exemption?

UFT members in their last trimester of pregnancy, whether vaccinated or not, have the option to go on leave effective Oct 4. First, members must exhaust their CAR days. If the member exhausts their CAR days before giving birth, the member can decide to start their six weeks of paid parental leave (if eligible) early. Members in their first two trimesters of pregnancy must be vaccinated if they want to remain on payroll.

I do not want to take the COVID-19 vaccine but also do not qualify for an exemption from the mandate. Will I lose my job?

Members who are not vaccinated by Oct. 1 but do not qualify for a medical accommodation or an exemption will be placed by the DOE on leave without pay effective Oct. 4, 2021 through Nov. 30, 2021. Once placed on leave, the member must be offered two options, both of which include one year's health coverage.

Option 1 - Unpaid Leave 

  • The DOE will automatically put you on this leave starting Oct. 4 if you do not have at least one dose of the COVID‑19 vaccine
  • By Nov. 30, you must get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or inform the DOE that if you will extend the leave until Sept. 5, 2022
  • You will have medical coverage until Sept. 5, 2022
  • Your position will be held at your school until Sept. 5, 2022
  • You may not work elsewhere while on this leave
  • You will not qualify for unemployment while on this leave because you are still an employee of the DOE. The leave status is what allows your position to be held if you choose to return.
  • If you are not vaccinated by Sept. 5, 2022, and the vaccine mandate is still in effect, you will be automatically deemed voluntarily resigned from the DOE.
  • If at any time between now and the end of the school year you choose to become vaccinated, you may come off the leave and return to work.

Option 2 - Severance 

  • You must decide by Oct. 28 if you will take this severance option and resign from the DOE.
  • You will receive 1:1 compensation for your CAR days (up to 100 days) but these days will not be pensionable time.
  • You will receive medical insurance until Sept. 5, 2022, as long as you do not have access to other health insurance coverage during that period.
  • Taking severance will be considered an involuntary and nondisciplinary departure for unemployment purposes.
  • You will not be prevented from returning to work with the DOE in the future; however, you will have to find a position—you are not guaranteed the right to return to your school.
  • You can seek and take employment opportunities elsewhere.

I am currently unvaccinated and therefore will be on an unpaid leave as of Oct. 4. If I decide to get vaccinated later on, can I be reinstated into my position?

If you are vaccinated before Nov. 30, 2021 while on unpaid leave, you will have a right of return to the same school no later than one week after submitting your vaccination record to the DOE. By Nov. 30, you must get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or inform the DOE that you will extend the leave until Sept. 5, 2022. If you receive your vaccination after Nov. 30, 2021 but before Sept. 5, 2022, you will have a right of return to the same school no later than two weeks after submitting your vaccination record to the DOE. If you take the severance option and resign from your position, there is no expedited route to return if you later decide to get vaccinated.