Evelyn Velez felt as if she was over the moon when she planned to lead International Leadership Charter School’s new middle school as it launches this fall. But refusing to get an updated Covid booster shot forced her to resign effective immediately on March 1. She claimed her new job had become a “hostile work environment.”
In April, Velez, with almost 13 years working with charter schools, was introduced as the new director of curriculum of instruction and the founding principal of the middle school. Meanwhile, on Feb. 21, The Riverdale Press noticed a job posting for “principal” was uploaded to New York City Charter School Center.
The middle school is an expansion from the high school on West 231st Street with the same name, which was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best high schools in the Bronx for eight consecutive years.
Eight months after Velez was hired, Elaine Ruiz-López, the chief executive and founder of the charter school, allegedly said to Velez, “you have a job today, for now. Without the vaccination, you cannot continue in a leadership position at this organization.”
But Velez pointed out in her resignation email that was forwarded to The Riverdale Press by Velez, the Bivalent Covid-19 booster was Ruiz-López’s requirement, and it was news to Velez. It is unclear which vaccinations Velez received, as both Velez and Ruiz-López have not responded for comment.
The city health department recommends ages 6 and older receive the most updated booster against the Covid variants.
In September 2022 both Moderna and Pfizer released a new booster called Bivalent to target the new strains of Covid, including the Omicron variant.
According to Sharon Reynolds from the National Institutes of Health, a Bivalent booster vaccine against SARS was 37 percent more effective than older booster vaccines reducing the risk of severe Covid complications.
The SUNY Charter School Institute oversees all charter schools, including the International Leadership schools. The SUNY Board of Trustees Vaccination Mandates maintain that administration officials be vaccinated against Covid.
However, in her letter of resignation Velez said those mandates “do not exist in the Employee Handbook and were not detailed as conditions of employment in my contract.”
Prior to Velez’s abrupt departure, on Feb. 6, Mayor Eric Adams dropped the city’s Covid mandate for city workers.
The order cost thousands of educators and other city workers their jobs because they did not get vaccinations.
But for Velez, she was still the odd one out.
Within the email, Velez stated that Ruiz-López “forbid” her to attend a leadership holiday party, “ostracized” her at school functions by separation and waged an email campaign suggesting Velez’s termination if she did not receive the vaccine.
Area residents have been angered by the proposed charter middle school at 306 W. 232nd St. because they say they were not informed by the principal.
According to Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, the charter school held a “secret” meeting with the Panel for Education Policy about the middle school proposal.
“I have a serious problem with this,” said Charles Moerdler, chair of the land use committee, during a Community Board 8 meeting. There can be a possible public safety hazard, he claimed.
Prior to the construction, the site was occupied by a single-family home. Now the builders are creating a seven-story building.
Moerdler invited the charter school, buildings department and city planning to attend the CB8 meeting, but they did not participate.
“It leads me to believe that somebody doesn’t give a damn what the board says,” he said.
The Assemblyman is thrilled the school is expanding as the high school has been a success. He does disagree with the location, which he calls “problematic” and “inappropriate” because of the 14 schools nearby.
“That’s thousands and thousands of kids, countless cars, buses, you name it coming into the neighborhood,” he said. “This location is so inappropriate it boggles the mind to think that anyone can come up with this besides a bad neighbor.”
When the school is open and completed, it is expected to have 400 students.