Watch CBS News

Can New York City Enforce Its COVID Vaccine Mandate On Private And Religious Schools?

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City is imposing a new COVID vaccine mandate on all staff at private schools, including religious and non-government school workers.

The order applies to about 56,000 employees at 938 schools across the city, CBS2's Alice Gainer reported Friday. But is it enforceable?

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Health announced all non-public school employees must get their first shot by Dec. 20.

According to the city, the order aligns with what the CDC recommends -- that teachers and staff be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Officials said the city will offer vaccines to any schools that requests them for staff and students.

The Archdiocese of New York released a statements that said, in part, "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."

"We will review the mandate to determine this order's relevance and applicability to our Catholic schools, and any potential response," the statement went on to say.

In a letter to the mayor and health commissioner, the chairman of the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials said the group "firmly opposes any such mandate."

The chairman noted that while they "support and... encourage COVID vaccination" and that a large majority of staff is vaccinated, they think it should be "left to individual choice."

"... government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce," the letter said.

Gainer asked employment attorney John Bell if the city can legally enforce the mandate.

"The short answer is yes. It's certain to be challenged," Bell said.

According to Bell, it's been challenged before, but state and city officials can still pass these mandates.

"However, there has to be the typical medical and religious exemptions. Those are both New York State, New York City and federal law," Bell said. "It has to be a bona fide, real belief."

The city's ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods have some of the lowest vaccination rates. Just over 50% of the population in Borough Park has at least one dose of the vaccine.

"I believe that they're not going to be successful in challenging it," Bell said. "I believe that they're going to have to succumb to it and get the vaccinations or look to move to another state."

Teachers and other employees at public schools were already required to get vaccinated, and more than 95% are.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.