By Tatiana Bonilla and Aura Moody, Educators for Freedom
“We have taken a stance that we are no longer concerned with living comfortably if we are not free, which begins with the defense and preservation of our constitutional rights.”
New York City was one of the most prominently affected cities not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but its subsequent lockdowns, protocols, and mandates. In response, NYC educators, including teachers, paraprofessionals, related service providers, secretaries, and other essential workers, were tasked with efficiently adapting to the changes implemented by the city in order to provide our students with the most successful learning experience. Moving from classroom to remote setting required us to be more than just stationary classroom teachers. We were not only educators, but our interactions were therapeutic to students and families, as we were relied on daily for support to alleviate the stress and anxieties provoked by these citywide changes. While not ideal, the virtual classrooms were safe havens for students who were hardest hit by the physical, social, and emotional impact that mandates and lockdowns brought to our city.
Educators have proven to be adaptable, and continuously adjusted their teaching practice to make up for the deficiencies that a normal classroom setting would have provided. As NYC continues to enforce some of the strictest COVID-19 mandates in the nation, educators have been faced with yet another ultimatum which requires the unvaccinated to choose between careers and livelihoods or body autonomy. Beginning in September 2021, educators were allotted the opportunity to apply for religious exemptions. While this was frowned upon by our unions, coworkers and the city, we understood that it is our legal right to request an exemption for a vaccine that violates our morals. It seems those in power believe educators, the backbone of building the next generation, are incompetent in our understanding of the law and Constitution. In addition, Department of Education employees were also able to apply for medical exemptions. These exemptions were appropriately documented by their personal physicians who believed the state of their patient’s health would be compromised in the event of being vaccinated, or they have acquired natural immunity. Subsequently, although we followed all Department of Education steps and standards for application of religious and medical exemptions, and even though they admitted to their evaluation process being “constitutionally suspect,” we have faced denial and ultimately retaliation. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mayor Eric Adams, the DOE and the United Federation of Teachers union have disregarded the constitutional rights to exemption of the COVID-19 vaccines due to sincerely held religious-moral beliefs and medical conditions. The consequences for not bowing to the pressures of tyrannical mandates and government overreach include: denied applications and appeals for religious exemptions, removal from our place of work and from students we love dearly, being labeled akin to biohazards, loss of medical insurance and termination from our positions. The DOE also believed their desire of staff to be vaccinated superseded the advice of primary care physicians and autonomy of those medically unable to be vaccinated. Many were denied medical exemptions and have also been fired. All in the name of science? In addition, months later we found out we had been labeled with the Problem Code on our records in the NYC system. This code deems us “unemployable” and hinders our likelihood of gaining future employment. The UFT receives union dues from its members to protect them from unfair administrative actions and to protect their rights as US citizens who have followed all labor laws. We expected the union to protect us from tyrannical practices and mandates, but they have failed. They have acted as a cohesive agent and “strong arm” of the government and have played a huge role in our terminations through their lack of support. We have an exemplary record and have had a profound impact on the lives of the youth- and yet we are being demonized for the choices we have made regarding our bodies. However, after months of grueling interactions with the city and our unions over the past 8 months and with terminations activated without due process of the law, we have not given up hope, we will not comply and nor should you.
Sometimes, there is beauty from ashes. Being educators who have all applied for religious and medical exemptions we have built within ourselves a community of believers that cannot only rely on our knowledge of legal and constitutional liberties, but on our foundational faith in God. We understand that we will face trials, we will face struggles and that our hope is not in man or what man can do, but in Christ and His workings on the hearts of man. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul,” Hebrews 6:19. Some of us have lost homes and other assets, been forced to relocate out of state, had to rely on family and friends for necessities, experienced mental health challenges, and have even been denied unemployment from the city that refuses to see the need we have to sustain ourselves. However, we in this group have learned from each other, prayed with each other, and have supported one another with our gifts and talents. We will not comply, and we hope our story is a motivation for you to stand for what is right- even in the face of mockery, isolation and losing it all. While much of our future is still unclear, what we do know is that God is and always will be an advocate for us and what the DOE and those in power have done to city workers in NYC will be exposed. “The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” Proverbs 12:19
It is clear that this infringement of the Constitution will not stop in New York City. It will also not stop in the education system. Those in power and governmental authority have made it clear that the goal is total control over every aspect of society including bodily autonomy- and it will soon come knocking at the doorstep of every American. We have taken a stance that we are no longer concerned with living comfortably if we are not free, which begins with the defense and preservation of our constitutional rights.
We are asking for donations in the defense of individual members. All contributions go towards the Educators for Freedom litigation: Keil et al v. The City of New York et al. This will not only help the individuals who are seeking acceptance of filed religious exemptions or those exercising the right to refuse vaccination by the DOE, but it will serve as a precedent to those who would seek to trample on individuals’ rights that are protected by the Constitution. This will also be exemplary to what unions should be adhering to which includes the protection of all employee members. Please consider making a financial contribution in defense of this lawsuit. With your financial support and contributions, you are standing in agreement that the rights of individuals over body autonomy and religious freedom must be protected. One should not have to choose between that and being employable. In addition, the NYC government should be aware that frivolous actions and mandates that hurt and undermine the stability of student presence, participation and progress will not be tolerated. We have put our lives and careers on the lines for every American!
Educators for Freedom