REPORT: New York History Teacher Suspended and Denied Religious Exemption

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Stephanie Edmonds, a history teacher for the New York City public school system, filed for religious exemption after the COVID-19 Vaccine was mandated for all New York City Schools staff by October 1, 2021. The penalty for refusing the vaccine is “leave without pay,” with no promise of continual contract renewal. 

Stephanie received a letter from the New York City public school system on Monday, October 5th, stating her application for exemption was denied with no further explanation. A single mother, she was not even told why. Further inquiries by Chalkboard Review staff found that other NYC staff, teachers, and other community members have been met with silence from the district office. Their denials included no further comment.

Additionally, Stephanie and other unvaccinated New York City teachers and paraprofessionals are forbidden from using annual leave, sick days, or any other compensation.

Stephanie said that she will continue to fight this vaccine mandate on behalf of the teachers, paraprofessionals, and other staff of the New York City public schools. In her statement to Chalkboard Review:

The people who run NYCDOE have no respect for the teachers and staff that are on the ground every day actually running the schools. They have decided that to work, we have to give them not just our time, dedication, and passion, but complete autonomy over our bodies. This is the antithesis of what our country was founded on and in my case, a clear violation of my right to practice my religious beliefs free of discrimination.

At a rally protesting the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on October 4th, hundreds of the NYC education staff said they too had been placed on leave without pay. One teacher stated, “the most distressing thing is that we were told we were essential last year and now we’re just nothing.” 

Strangely, several staff said that they were still being paid by their schools, but were not allowed on the campuses while their religious or medical exemption requests were still being considered. One teacher made a special plea to Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, who declined to overturn the mandate from the New York City public school system. 

The action to mandate vaccines has drawn scorn from many. The New York Times cited that only 28% of young black men were vaccinated, leading many to call such mandated actions harmful to marginalized communities. Additionally, city officials have dodged explanations as to why formerly “essential workers” were now being cast aside so quickly without virtual options. 

Substitute teachers, who are expected to fill the slots of unvaccinated teachers, are in short supply. David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, cautioned that the drastically high need for substitute teachers in NYC schools is “very worrying.”

To worsen matters, there are particularly high levels of unvaccinated security guards. Greg Floyd, the head of the school safety agents union, cautioned that the overwhelming majority of NYC schools would have only one safety agent by next week. 

The current estimation is that over two thousand educators are unvaccinated in the New York City public school system. According to some reports, over 3,600 vacancies in the school system will need to be filled as chaos ensues. One particular school on Staten Island will be missing over 20 teachers.

Tony Kinnett
Tony Kinnett is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Chalkboard Review. He is an award-winning science teacher, and the former science coordinator and head instructional coach for Indianapolis Public Schools, until he was fired for whistleblowing information concerning the school system's use of racist material. In February, he was appointed the director of the education nonprofit Choice Media, now Chalkboard Media.

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