NEW YORK—Late in 2021 New York City schoolteachers who refused to comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate were placed on unpaid leave by the Department of Education. Almost all who submitted a religious or medical exemption were denied, which led to arbitration between the two groups.
The arbitration agreement provided a religious or medical exemption.
However, Jimmy Wagner, a Brooklyn-based attorney who represents several unvaccinated city employees, feels the DOE is not acting in good faith.
"The DOE is being dishonest because they have no intention of giving these people the opportunity to apply for a religious accommodation," he told The Epoch Times.
The DOE required as-of-yet unvaccinated teachers to fill out a form on its website stating what their intentions are regarding the vaccine for the upcoming school year. The deadline was August 11.
A special education teacher on the middle school level in Brooklyn spoke to The Epoch Times on the condition of anonymity.
She considers herself a "Bible-believing Christian" and decided not to take the vaccination.
Late last year the DOE had an earlier version of the form on its website. The special ed teacher said she read the parameters of the religious exemption, and at the time, only specific faiths that have an established history of aversions to modern medicine such as the Christian Scientists were acceptable.
She uploaded all her information, including a statement from her pastor.
When she got to the final step of "submit," a message popped up saying she was "non-compliant to the mandate," and could not apply for this exemption.
She emailed human resources and the education chancellor for guidance but received no reply.
With no other viable option, she was put on unpaid leave.
Her hope was that over the summer of 2022, the mandate would be lifted and she could return to work for the 2022-23 school year.
The online form was modified this month with one enormous change: In bold, red letters it said, "Please be advised at this time you cannot apply for a COVID vaccine related exemption/accommodation for 2022-2023 school year."
However, she discovered a "COVID mandate" option buried within a list of accommodations for those with disabilities.
Once again, she explained her situation in the form along with the letter from her pastor.
"Once I clicked to submit, the same error popped up, right in my face," she said.
Jim Hogue and his wife, Jen Hogue, are both history teachers at Forest Hills High School. When the mandate was first issued, Jen Hogue willing took the jab. Jim Hogue was skeptical.
He had listened to a lot of conservative media that questioned the efficacy and spoke about the negative side effects of the vaccine, which gave him pause.
"So I developed just a wait-and-see attitude for a while," he told The Epoch Times.
Over time he heard several doctors speak out against the shot. In addition to the physical aspects of the vaccination, Jim Hogue factored in a religious one in his decision.
The veteran teacher of 28 years decided against the shot.
The DOE insisted on the vaccination but offered three options: get vaccinated, retire, or go on unpaid leave for a year but without permission to take another job.
"I took none of those," he said.
Retirement wasn’t an option because before 30 years, there are "substantial financial penalties," he said.
Arbitration between the teachers and the DOE followed, which included the option for a religious or medical exemption.
Jim Hogue chose religious and was denied without an explanation as to why. He appealed and was denied without an explanation again.
Soon after he filed the first of his two lawsuits.
"They were supposed to be paying me by rules of the arbitration while the court case is being settled," he said. "They very conveniently forgot that."
In the arbitration award obtained by The Epoch Times, it states teachers "shall remain on payroll" while the appeal is pending.
This argument is the basis of Jim Hogue’s first lawsuit against the DOE from October 2021. His second one is for the unpaid salary from last year.
While Jen Hogue is grateful to have a job to support their family of five, she has experienced a negative side effect of the vaccine.
"I do have concerns about the fact that there’s such censorship around this vaccine and the reporting of possible side effects," she told The Epoch Times. "People are not allowed to freely talk about these things without being censored."
Officially, Jim Hogue has not been fired, although he was fired and reinstated twice after Wagner proved the terminations were in violation of the agreement.
"They made a side deal with Jimmy Wagner to not terminate me until the case is over," he said.
Jim Hogue chose not to fill out the current form on the website since there was no option to request a religious exemption.
The special ed teacher pretty much knows if the mandate is in effect by the September deadline to be vaccinated, her career as an educator in the public schools is over.
"I’m going to resign," she said. "I’ve already come to that conclusion."