PRESS RELEASE – Big Win in Court for NYC Educators on Unpaid Leave

Plaintiffs Can Reapply for Religious Exemption in NYC Schools

DOE Promises to Make this Option Generally Available

by Michael Kane

11-30-21

In a unanimous opinion, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that NYC Educators denied a religious exemption to vaccination and placed on unpaid leave must be allowed to apply again for an exemption under a new process. Read the Court’s full decision here.

The decision only applies to the 15 named plaintiffs in the cases KANE vs DE BLASIO and KEIL vs NYC, however the DOE promised the Court that they would be making this new review process widely available to other DOE employees. Over the past week the NYC DOE has been sending emails to many educators denied religious exemptions informing them they, too, can reapply for a religious exemption.

This is the second time in the past two weeks that the 2nd Circuit has ruled in favor of these plaintiffs, but this ruling is much more significant than the first. The first ruling which came down on November 13th was from a motions panel. This recent ruling came from a merits panel overseen by the Court’s Chief Justice Debra Ann Livingston which holds much more weight over the eventual outcome of the case. This new ruling officially overturns the ruling in the lower court that had previously denied any relief to the plaintiffs, which came from Judge Valerie Caproni in New York’s Southern District Federal Court.

“An important aspect of this ruling is that the Court acknowledged that the policy is likely to be found unconstitutional and that ‘strict scrutiny’ must be applied.” Said Sujata Gibson, as lead attorney for the Kane plaintiffs. “This is one of the first vaccine-related cases to receive strict scrutiny review and the next phases of this litigation could have significant impact. The government now has the burden to prove that they are using the least restrictive means to serve a compelling interest. With fundamental rights at stake, this should be the standard.”

The very few teachers granted religious exemptions to vaccination are still denied the right to enter their school buildings and are working at other placements. By opening up ‘strict scrutiny’ it is possible that the courts will have to analyze whether or not such segregation is necessary or if it effectively equates to government over-reach. Only time will tell if this matter will have it’s day placed squarely before the court.

Attorney Gibson noted that despite the favorable ruling, the fight is far from over. “There is a lot more work to do to ensure that the discrimination that occurred in New York City is rectified, not only for these fifteen plaintiffs, but for all similarly situated DOE employees. What happened in New York is not okay, and we need to ensure that it does not easily happen again. We’ve won a preliminary battle, but the real work now lies ahead.”

16 thoughts on “PRESS RELEASE – Big Win in Court for NYC Educators on Unpaid Leave

  1. I am very happy for the original plaintiffs, and of course for those additional teachers recently “invited” to reapply for the exemption: That’s a great victory!

    At the same time, why were only SOME other teachers (beyond the original plaintiffs) among those earlier denied the religious exemption sent the recent “invitations” to reapply for a religious exemption?

    The rumor I’ve heard is that if you didn’t appeal the original denial, you weren’t offered the recent “invitation.” If that’s true, why the arbitrary distinction?

    My husband, a teacher for 20 years, was not sent the “invitation.” He tried to reapply for an exemption yesterday and was immediately sent an email saying he’s not eligible to reapply!

    What on earth…?

    PS: Unlike some others in the DOE, when his original application for a religious exemption was denied, he was not offered the opportunity to come in and answer questions, as were some others. Also, his denial email from the City also stated no reason for the denial, unlike many (if not most) others!

    This is unconscionable!

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  2. I tried to reapply on Solas and got an error message saying that I can’t reapply because I was non compliant to the vaccine mandate. Any recommendations? I’ve been on hold with hr for 2 hours and have emailed the whole list of people?!?

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    1. Call them and email them.

      Make sure the email goes out today — send to all the emails that we have listed in our update from yesterday (11-29-21) and save all your documentation / emails. Do NOT send from your NYC DOE email as they may shut it down soon. They may take you out of the system but you have grounds to demand to be placed back in.

      Try calling tomorrow as well if you don’t get through, but you can’t call at lunch time. Call 8:30am

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  3. So I have 2 options on my SOLAS no sure which one to click. I also sent the letter in email and no response from anyone. Advice please.

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  4. I just sent option 4 and accompanying email to all recipients on your org and reply is that they don’t respond to teachers only to supervisors or admin

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  5. So despite saying they would “keep people’s status the same” if they put in for this “new” religious exemption appeal through the citywide panel- SURPRISE- they lied!! My health insurance is NOT active now and has been deactivated DESPITE saying things would remain the same until the “decision”/ and extension in time! Why am I not surprised by the underhanded maneuvers of the DOE?! What about everyone else’s situation? 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

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    1. In order to be active with the UFT you must send a $25 check to the UFT accounting fund at 52 Broadway 11th floor New York, NY 10004 for the year While on the unpaid leave To be activated again

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  6. I applied for the RE and was denied in September. I did not appeal at that time. I tried to go on solas several times and reapply but am not able to. I also emailed all the emails listed with no response: please help!

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