Effect of the DOE Vaccine Mandate on Tech Staffing



On October 4th, 2021, all staff employed by the New York City Department of Education who had not submitted proof of at least one shot of the Covid vaccine were removed from payroll, unless they received an exemption. Similar mandates have recently appeared around the nation in hopes of classrooms returning to normal, while still being able to keep those within school communities safe.

To prepare for the mandate, the city had a reserve pool of 11,000 substitute teachers to manage any possible staffing shortages.

By the morning of October 5th, 95% of DOE employees reported receiving at least one dose. This percentage includes about 96% of teachers, and 99% of all principals. The remaining unvaccinated staff were replaced by the substitute teachers from the reserve pool.

According to Principal Newman, two employees from the cafeteria staff, two employees from the janitorial staff, and two other school employees were removed from payroll as a result of this mandate. No teachers were removed. 

One teacher made the decision to retire rather than get removed from payroll by the DOE, which Principal Newman confirmed. Following his retirement, he continued to unofficially coach one of Tech’s sports teams. 

One of his students, David Stelk (‘24), explained that he went on a “monologue” during his final class. “He said it was more of a spiritual decision, and said that his body led him through life, and that he was going to retire next year anyway,” Stelk said. The teacher never explicitly stated to students that his retirement was due to the mandate.

The Survey attempted to contact the teacher, but he did not respond to a request for comment.

Ruby Frank (‘24), another student of this teacher, noted that, “He did not speak specifically about the vaccine, but we all assumed what was going on. He said something about disagreements that he had with the DOE, and something like how he can not personally continue to work.” The teacher was making such statements around the time that the DOE imposed the vaccine mandate. 

The sudden job vacancy created a complicated transition in the classroom. Frank explained that the former teacher’s classes had “passing substitutes, had a lot of empty class periods, no instruction being done.” This went on for several weeks, and Frank stated that “all [of] our work didn’t start to get graded until a week or so into the new teacher. Now though, we are fully caught up and everything is normal.”

This mandate continued to face legal challenges after its initial proposition several months after the mandate took effect. An injunction in late September was made for the mandate by the state, but it was approved to move forward several days later. An emergency injunction against the mandate was made to the United States Supreme Court just before it went into effect, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor rejected it.

When the mandate took effect, 3,000 teachers and 12 principals around the city were still unvaccinated, which left these positions open to the substitute teachers from the reserve pool. Overall, this mandate has had a significant effect on schools across the city due to the legal challenges and the jobs it has left vacant, but its effect on Tech has been minimal.