ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) — When Gov. Kathy Hochul issued her inaugural address as the head of New York State’s Executive Chamber Tuesday, she said one of her top priorities would be to get students back into the classroom safely. One of the ways to do that, she said, was to require vaccinations for all school personnel, with an option to test out weekly.
Hochul admitted cooperation at all levels of government would be needed to get that done. On Wednesday, she specified a little further.
“I don’t have the executive power to mandate vaccinations in schools, but I’ll be working closely to come to that conclusion by teaming up with our partners in the education community, our school superintendents, and our school boards,” Hochul told CBS This Morning. “This has to happen because this has gone on too long. Our children need to be back in school.”
Lisa Coppola, an attorney who concentrates on employment law, explained that typically such requirements would be mandated by a legislative body.
“It certainly would be prudent to have the legislature, the Assembly and the Senate of New York State, be focused on this issue,” Coppola said.
But while it could be called back to Albany, the state legislature is not in session.
“The next place to look might be at the county level and county legislators,” Coppola continued. “And then, at the school board or school district level.”
Coppola noted decisions at the school district level could require collective bargaining with unions. Phil Rumore, the president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said Wednesday he would hope Buffalo Public Schools require the vaccine, with a test-out option, for personnel.
“Teachers were overwhelmingly supportive of having vaccines and having teachers and staff vaccinated, but they wanted to make sure if you couldn’t get it, if you have medical reasons, etcetera, that there would be testing that would be taken care of,” Rumore said.
On August 9th, before Hochul took office and publicly started her push to get school personnel vaccinated, BPS Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash wrote, “The district strongly urges and expects all staff to be fully vaccinated. Children are safer when the adults who care for them are vaccinated,” in a letter to the district community.
The Erie County Department of Health is “strongly recommending” the COVID-19 vaccination for eligible students and staff.
But it is still unclear whether a mandate will come down in Buffalo.
“Ultimately, if there is a mandate of any kind like this, then it would have to be something that we’d negotiate,” Rumore said. “We’d work with the district to find out how we take care of the people that can’t take the vaccine.”