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NYC Teacher, Principal Unions Warn Of School Staffing Shortages When Vaccine Mandate Takes Effect; De Blasio Says Substitutes Standing By

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The New York City teachers and principals unions are sounding the alarm, saying schools are not prepared for expected staffing shortages next week when the Department of Education's vaccine mandate takes effect.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio says they've got everything under control.

As CBS2's Andrea Grymes reports, dad Matthew Diaz says he welcomes the vaccine mandate for staffers at his son's Chelsea school and all public schools across the city.

"I think it's very important. I think the teachers should be vaccinated and keep the kids safe," Diaz said.


"I would appreciate if they get vaccinated, so she could be safe," mother Romona Gonzalez told CBS2's John Dias.

Gonzalez said it only makes sense that during a pandemic adults, especially teachers and school staff, should protect kids who can't get vaccinated yet.

"I got vaccinated just because of her," she said of her daughter.

Even an 8-year-old wants to see more eligible people get the shot.

"Kids are not vaccinated, and they could have coronavirus," he said.

Watch Andrea Grymes' report -- 

The teachers and principals unions say they also encourage vaccinations, but the city is woefully unprepared for staffing shortages next week, when the mandate takes effect.

All Department of Education employees must have at least the first dose of the COVID vaccine by midnight on Monday, or take a severance package, or unpaid leave.

The union says that leaves no time to prepare for Tuesday morning.

"Who the hell said Monday was a good idea? Because that person should be fired," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. 'City Hall needs to wake up and base it on kids, not politics.'

"There are schools with between 30 and over 100 people on the non-compliant list right now. Until there is a plan to make sure schools are safe, we need to reevaluate what we're doing going forward," said Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators.

The teachers union says right now about 6,000 of their 120,000 members are unvaccinated. The principals union reports at least 315 of their 6,300 members are also unvaccinated. Those numbers don't include other staffers who also need the shot, like custodians and school safety agents.

Despite the warnings from the unions, the mayor says they're ready for next week.

"We've been planning all along. We have a lot of substitutes ready. But I think the big story here is going to be that the vast majority, overwhelming majority of teachers and staff are going to come in vaccinated," de Blasio said.

The unions say they're most concerned about staff shortages next week at the larger high schools and middle schools across the city. The mayor says a lot can happen between now and Monday, but they do have thousands of replacement teachers ready to step in, if needed.

The mayor says they're seeing a small number of requests for religious or medical exemptions, adding hundreds have been approved so far.

The city Department of Education has more than 100,000 staffers.

Many parents Dias spoke to said they are having a hard time comprehending why the vaccine rate among school workers still isn't at nearly 100%.

"I don't know what's the issue," said Ziva Toplak. "I think there was enough time."

"I'm very concerned. Will definitely think about keeping him home," Victor Young added.

The Department of Education remains steadfast about the deadline, saying, "The number will continue to rise over the coming days."

"There's been plenty of time for teachers, staff to get vaccinated. We have a lot of substitutes ready. If we need thousands, we have thousands," said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Another concern the unions brought up was not just COVID safety, but security. They said some schools could only have one safety agent come Tuesday.


Scientists say one of the keys to ending the pandemic is protecting children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says schools without mask requirements were three and a half times more likely to have outbreaks.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea is spreading the word to get the vaccine.

Thirty-nine percent of the NYPD still have not gotten it. Eight are now hospitalized in serious condition, and some are intubated.

John Dias and Dick Brennan contributed to this report. 

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