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New York City educators ask the Supreme Court to stop the city’s vaccine mandate for school workers

The four educators lost their case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

Teachers protest coronavirus mandates on Aug. 25 in New York. Four educators have asked the Supreme Court to intervene to stop New York City from implementing a vaccine mandate for school employees. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

A group of New York City educators seeking to overturn the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to halt the mandate before it goes into effect next week.

New York City’s 148,000 school employees have until Friday to show proof of vaccination or to obtain a religious or medical exemption. If they fail to do so, the city can remove them from the payrolls Monday.

Many districts and states give school employees the option to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing. But a small number of jurisdictions — including Puerto Rico, Washington state and the District of Columbia — have gone further, requiring staff to get vaccinated without an option to get regularly tested. New York City wants to follow suit.

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The legal battle comes as schools across the country report outbreaks in classrooms that have forced hundreds of thousands of students and teachers to quarantine. The delta variant, believed to be more contagious than its predecessors, has driven pediatric cases to record highs.

The vaccine mandates, like those over masks, have proved controversial in some places. Earlier this year, a group of Indiana University students sued to halt the school’s vaccine mandate, ultimately pleading their case to the Supreme Court.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who handles emergency petitions from that part of the country, rejected their plea without explanation. The lower courts relied on a 1905 Supreme Court decision, in which the court upheld a $5 fine against a man who refused to get a smallpox vaccine, in rejecting the argument that the students should be allowed to forgo a coronavirus vaccine.

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The New York City educators — Rachel Maniscalco, Evelyn Arancio, Diana Salomon and Corinne Lynch — argue in their suit that the vaccine mandate is “draconian” and unconstitutional and that it unjustly deprives them of their right to do their jobs. In the petition filed Thursday, their attorneys said that moving forward with the mandate could push thousands of people out of the workforce, leading to staff shortages and further disruptions to the school day.

About 89 percent of all school staff — including 92 percent of teachers — were vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the city education department.

Last week, a federal judge issued an emergency injunction halting the mandate. It was overturned within a matter of days by a three-judge panel, paving the way for the city to implement the mandate.

The educators are hoping the high court will block the mandate and hear their challenge. Their petition was directed to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is responsible for emergency petitions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

Katie O’Hanlon, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education, said the educators “have no valid claims and have stated no basis for the Court’s intervention.”

“Courts have spoken. The Health Department has the authority to implement a mandate that is firmly grounded in science and the expertise of public health officials from across the nation,” O’Hanlon said.