Hot lunch in NYC schools may be off the menu after union warns of staff shortages over vaccinations


Beginning next week, students in New York City public schools might be forced to say ‘goodbye’ to hot meals, and instead make do with cold grab-and-go lunch options because of cafeteria worker shortages triggered by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s  vaccine mandate. 

Teachers and support staff in the nation’s largest school district have until Monday to present their proof of vaccination.  

The head of the union that represents school food workers, school aides and parent coordinators, has warned that about a quarter of its 24,000 members could opt to go on unpaid leave rather than get the jab.

Donald Nesbitt, Vice President of District Council 37 Local 372, said the the New York City Department of Education has prepared ’emergency menus,’ which would include cold items instead of hot food in case cafeterias are hit by serious staffing issues. 

Faced with a possible cafeteria staff shortage due to a vaccine mandate going into effect Monday, NYC schools have 'emergency menus' ready

Faced with a possible cafeteria staff shortage due to a vaccine mandate going into effect Monday, NYC schools have ’emergency menus’ ready

Students in some schools might have to make do with cold grab-and-go meals instead of hot food items

Students in some schools might have to make do with cold grab-and-go meals instead of hot food items

A DOE spokeswoman confirmed the culinary contingency plan, adding that some schools have already made the switch from hot meals to cold fare in grab-and-go containers, reported NY Daily News.  

The city had announced last month that school employees would have to get at least a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by September 27, impacting about 148,000 school workers and contractors.

As of Thursday, just 80 percent of DOE staff and 87 percent of teachers had uploaded proof of vaccination, clearing them for work.

About 10,000 teachers have yet to submit their vaccination paperwork, prompting union bosses to demand that the mandate deadline be delayed. 

During his daily press briefing, de Blasio sounded optimistic about the city’s preparations, saying that there were enough substitute teachers on standby to fill in for their unvaccinated colleagues. 

‘Central staff has thousands of certified educators who could step in to different roles, if needed,’ the mayor said. ‘So they will be ready. But the reality we are seeing right now is, we think the overwhelming majority of our educators and staff are going to be there on Monday,’ as ABC 7 NY reported. 

But Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, expressed doubt that the city has enough teachers to fill in all the positions.  rosy outlook, said he doubts the city has enough substitutes to fill all of the positions that could be vacant and fears principals will be left in the lurch attempting to keep schools open. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured on September 15, said there were enough substitute teachers to fill in for their unvaccinated colleagues

Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured on September 15, said there were enough substitute teachers to fill in for their unvaccinated colleagues

‘Despite our repeated warnings, the city is ill prepared for the impact of the vaccination mandate on staffing in schools and early childhood centers with just four days to go before it takes effect,’ he said.

Cannizzaro further argued that going forward with the enforcement of the deadline was ‘dangerous and irresponsible’ because it could leave schools severely understaffed.   

Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, sounded a similar note, saying that New York City schools ‘are not ready for the implementation of the vaccine mandate.’

A coalition of city unions had filed a lawsuit against the mandate and had asked for the injunction against its implementation. State Supreme Court Justice Laurence Love put a temporary restraining order in place last week, but removed it in his ruling on Wednesday.

In a statement, the DOE said the ruling was ‘a big win for New York City children and Department of Education employees. Their health and safety is at the very core of this vaccine mandate, and we are pleased the court recognized the city’s legal authority.’

The officials with the unions said they intended to continue the legal fight.

‘We are deeply disappointed that the temporary injunction has been lifted,’ Henry Garrido, executive director of DC 37, said in a statement. ‘This is not the end of the road and we will continue to fight for the right of workers to make their own healthcare decisions.’

Since school started two weeks ago, more than 1,100 students and 500 staff members have tested positive for COVID.

About 530 teachers have received an exemption from the vaccine requirement, citing religious or medical reasons.   

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