Unvaccinated New York City teachers were reportedly “flagged” and their fingerprints sent to the FBI, according to an affidavit filed in federal court last week.
In the New Yorkers for Religious Liberty Inc. v. The City of New York appeals hearing, challenging the now-rescinded vaccine mandate for city employees, plaintiff’s attorney John Burch said that “flagged” teachers were labeled with “problem codes” that impact their ability to get another job.
The allegations were based on a June 2022 affidavit written by Betsy Combier, president of the due process advocacy group Advocatz, detailing how the New York City Department of Education (DOE) flagged unvaccinated teachers without evidence of misconduct and sent their information, including fingerprints “to the national databases at both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and [New York’s] State Division of Criminal Justice Services.”
Sujata Gibson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, commented on these revelations to The Defender:
“These are hardworking teachers and educators with excellent employment records who dedicated their lives to teaching in the New York City public schools. It is unacceptable that the DOE would place problem codes on their employment files and flag their fingerprints with the FBI simply because they were not able or willing to get vaccinated.
“This was never about public health. This was about punishing those whose religious and other beliefs don’t line up with corporate interests in an effort to make it impossible to dissent.”
Michael Kane, national grassroots organizer for Children’s Health Defense and founder of Teachers For Choice, reported the “problem codes” on Feb. 9, one day after the hearing in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
He explained the relevance of this information for the case to The Defender:
“The point our attorneys were making is that not only were our constitutional rights violated when the mandates first occurred, but that these violations continue to occur, because this problem code is put on for us practicing our sincerely held religious beliefs. And when we go to apply for jobs, it’s still blocking us.
“So that is the main thrust of the argument. That’s one of the pieces of evidence that there is ongoing harm happening to us [because] they never stopped. To this day we are experiencing harm because of what New York City did to us. That was the real rationale that our attorneys were trying to get across.”
Unvaccinated teachers denied jobs due to the ‘problem code’
According to Combier’s affidavit, the DOE assigns “problem codes” to the personnel files of employees that “should not be hired due to unexplained misconduct of some kind.”
The affidavit stated:
“When the DOE puts a problem code in the employee’s personnel file, it also places a flag on the employee’s fingerprints, which is then sent to the national databases at both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
“I have represented more than 15 DOE employees before the DOE’s Office of Personnel Investigation in proceedings in which they requested the removal of their problem codes. The flag has several names such as ‘problem code,’ ‘pr’ code, ‘pc’ code, ‘ineligible,’ and ‘no hire/inquiry’ code; however, all refer to a salary block, whatever title it is given.”
Combier stated she had seen such “problem codes” in the personnel files of former DOE employees who did not receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The DOE places a problem code on the employee’s personnel file immediately upon getting information that the employee did not submit proof of vaccination.
“As soon as the employee gets the vaccination and submits proof, the code is removed from his or her file.”
Combier also provided an email from a DOE official confirming that a “problem code” was added to the personnel files of “DOE employees who were placed on leave without pay for failing to be vaccinated in violation of the DOE’s mandate.”
The “flag” then adversely impacted the employment prospects of teachers when they sought jobs outside of New York City. Combier wrote:
“I am aware that non-DOE schools located in counties outside New York City receive funds from the NYC DOE for certain teaching positions. These may include, for example, special education or STEM [science, technology, mathematics] teachers.
“The DOE pays the salaries for these positions using the same system it uses to pay traditional DOE employees, which is called Galaxy. Galaxy indicates whether the employee has a problem code in his or her file and blocks payment to the employee with this flag/code if viewed in the personnel file.”
As a result:
“At least 15 of my clients with problem codes were not hired by prospective schools outside the DOE because such schools saw the problem codes in Galaxy, even though those schools were located outside New York City.
“Such schools were able to see the codes because the position applied for was financed by the DOE and so the school used the Galaxy system and could check the prospective employee’s file.”
Attorneys for the city did not deny the veracity of this information in court.
Kane wrote, “Attorney Susan Paulson who was defending NYC stated that educators fired for declining COVID vaccination were not removed for misconduct, but rather for not meeting a requirement for employment.”
“If there was no misconduct, why are unvaccinated educators’ fingerprints sent to the FBI?” asked Kane.
Kane: Refusing vaccination isn’t ‘extremist’
Kane told The Defender that Teachers For Choice will attempt to work with city officials to discover the facts surrounding the assignment of the codes and the sharing of this information with the FBI, including determining who authorized these actions.
He told The Defender:
“The first thing we’re doing is we’re working with the Common-Sense Caucus in City Hall to get them to investigate. We need an investigation. I have my speculation of what’s going on, but the truth is we don’t know what’s going on. Who gave the order for these problem codes to be given simply for the fact that we’re declining COVID vaccination? Why did they do that? And have our civil rights been hurt because of it? I think they have.
“So right now, I think we need an investigation, because there’s lots of speculation happening and we need to get to the bottom of what really happened.”
The Common-Sense Caucus is an officially recognized caucus within the New York City Council.
Kane said it is composed primarily of Republicans and has “been the only voice against mandates in New York City governance.”
“We’ve been working closely with them, and they’ve been really pushing Mayor Eric Adams to be reasonable and to hear our concerns,” Kane said.
He said legal action is a strong possibility, but they will give Adams and the city an opportunity to respond first. He said:
“Right now we need to see if there will be any investigation into this, and we need to give New York City and Mayor Adams a chance to reply correctly. There’s a chance he didn’t do this. There’s a chance this happened from the previous administration, from Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Letters need to be written, requests need to be made, and that may or may not lead to litigation. We have to see, because if the city complies and, and tries to work to fix this problem, I think that would be great. But we don’t know yet. It’s too early in the process.”
Kane also wrote that by sending biometric data about unvaccinated teachers to the FBI, “NYC educators were being set up to be viewed as ‘right-wing extremists’ or even ‘terrorists.’”
“Educators who declined COVID vaccination — including myself — had every right to do so,” Kane wrote. “No one is a ‘terrorist’ or ‘extremist’ for holding the line on what does and does not go inside of their bodies — especially injected directly into their muscle tissue,” he added.
Teachers fired by the DOE because they declined the COVID-19 vaccine may face a difficult time being rehired by the city, despite the city’s claims that such workers can reapply for employment now that the vaccine mandate for city employees has been rescinded.
Kane said “reapplication definitely could be problematic” for these individuals. But he also noted, “The city is bleeding for employees. They’re desperately dying for people to take jobs. So yes, I think it will hurt many, but I think the city is hurting way more right now.”
As previously reported by The Defender, the U.S. House of Representatives has convened a Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, investigating claims that agencies such as the FBI collected information on and in some cases harassed ordinary Americans for their beliefs on topics such as COVID-19.
Kane wrote that such practices in New York City are not new. DNA specimens of city employees collected from COVID-19 tests were cataloged in proprietary libraries owned by Fulgent Genetics, the company contracted by de Blasio to administer the tests.