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Boston risks losing ‘disproportionate’ number of educators of color with city’s vaccine mandate

(NEW YORK) — There’s growing concern among union leaders in Boston that a “disproportionate” number of educators of color may leave their jobs because of a vaccine mandate for city employees.

“We are very concerned about the possibility of losing a disproportionate number of educators of color in Boston over the vaccine policy,” Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang told ABC News.

Last month, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced that all city employees would be required to have their first shot of COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 15 and complete the cycle by Feb. 15, unless granted a dispensation for medical or religious reasons. However, the Jan. 15 deadline was subsequently extended to Jan. 24 and again to Jan. 30.

City employees who refuse to comply will be placed on unpaid leave.

But with the vaccination policy set to go into effect next week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court on Thursday issued a temporary pause of Boston’s requirement for city workers after serious pushback from unions.

Over the past several months, teachers unions across the country, including in Chicago and New York City, have pushed back on similar mandates.

In a statement released Thursday, the BTU said it will not enforce Boston’s mandate by putting teachers on leave — at least until there’s a decision on the appeal. According to the union, over 96% of all members are vaccinated, including over 98% of teachers.

As of Friday, about 367 BTU members remained unvaccinated — disproportionately, Tang told ABC News, educators of color.

“Our union has worked extensively with the school department and community groups, especially over the last few years, to attract and retain a diverse staff that is reflective of the community that our schools serve,” Tang added.

According to city data, more than three-quarters (75.3%) of Boston’s students are Black or Latinx, compared with just over a third (33.7%) of teachers.

“Losing educators, especially in the middle of the school year, presents major difficulties across a wide array of issues,” Tang said. “We are committed to working with the district as best we can to not lose any educators.”

The union has proposed another extension on implementing the mandate, and it’s filed a formal complaint against Boston Public Schools and the city for “failing to bargain in good faith.”

A representative from Boston Public Schools pointed to the more than 80 clinics hosted by the district to help vaccinate staff and students.

“We have been working hard to ensure all of our employees understand the city’s policy and to increase access to vaccines,” a representative told ABC News.

Several other Boston unions, including those representing police and firefighters, also have pushed back on the mandate.

But Wu has repeatedly stood by that decision, insisting it’s necessary for the safety of the city, where about 95% of city employees have been vaccinated.

“Vaccination is our most powerful tool in this ongoing public health emergency, and we look forward to filing our response with the court,” Wu’s office said in a statement to ABC News.

 

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