Unvaccinated SB Unified staff participate in rally against decision to put them on unpaid leave, hire an attorney
Teachers, parents and students from the Santa Barbara Unified School District saturated a medical freedom rally Wednesday outside Santa Barbara City Hall.
The group protested the district’s decision to place unvaccinated staff on unpaid leave.
As of Monday, “a handful of employees” are on unpaid leave, according to the district. A total of 90 employees have requested deferrals or exemptions based on medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs.
A group of SB Unified staff members, along with advocates, formed a group named UnifySB and hired an attorney.
“SBUSD has given them two choices: (1) take the COVID-19 vaccine against their wishes, thereby waiving their constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion and civil rights under employment law; or (2) face unpaid leave and eventual future termination. However, UnifySB, and the employees it represents, have chosen a third option: to fight for their rights in the court of law,” the group’s lawyer Tony Black, of Tyler & Bursch LLP, said in a statement.
A teacher, who requested to remain anonymous, said he expects that employees who requested a religious exemption will be placed on unpaid leave Dec. 17.
In a letter sent to unvaccinated employees Sept. 24, the district said human-resources personnel would consult with those requesting exemptions.
“Human Resources will conduct an interactive process meeting to determine the validity of the request and if there is a reasonable accommodation that can be made,” the letter said.
But the teacher who spoke with the News-Press Wednesday said he has yet to be contacted and does not know of anyone who has been engaged in an interactive process.
SB Unified’s public information officer Camie Barnwell refused to comment on UnifySB Wednesday.
Earlier, she sent the following statement to the News-Press:
“HR will work with those who requested exemptions on their unique exemption request and any possible accommodations. These employees will continue to report to their current work assignment until a final decision is made or utilize their District-provided benefit time. We care about each and every employee in our district, and continue to focus on keeping our students and staff healthy and safe and IN school.”
Unvaccinated employees were sent a survey they were required to submit by Sept. 27 that gave eight options to describe their vaccination status such as vaccination in progress, requesting medical exemption, requesting religious exemption, would like to resign and refusal.
One choice said the following: “I will not be getting vaccinated, knowing that I could be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.” The survey did not allow employees to type in a response.
Nate Johnson, an unvaccinated woodshop teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, answered the survey, aware of the risks. But he thought he would be consulted by human resources.
“I was a bit surprised that they told me it was coming and then didn’t say anything to me for a month, so that was a little frustrating,” he said. “Nobody met with me or anything like that. I received an email, one email that was a survey, and then the next thing that they told me was, ‘You’re out.’”
Half of the district’s woodshop teachers have been affected by the district’s mandate, and the group supports one another.
Owen Keithley, a former woodshop student at Santa Barbara High School, said he came to the rally to support his former mentors.
“I think that they should be able to have their choice and be able to have their job, of course, and they’re both people who not only influenced me, but hundreds and hundreds of other kids. So I think they’re definitely vital, vital people to have in the district,” he said.
Dos Pueblos parent Dena Schultz said she came to the rally to stand with the teachers.
“They worked their butts off for over a year, and now the school district is getting ready to let them go and not value their freedom, their medical freedom,” she said.
Wednesday’s protest was part of a larger movement called the Worldwide Walkout, which encouraged people to call in sick and rally in places of high visibility.
Sharon Jegottka brought her sons to the demonstration. She said her family is vaccinated but she opposes mandates.
Some children stood out in the rally. One girl led the group’s march down State Street, carrying a sign that said, “Give my daddy his job back!”
Two siblings wore shirts that read “SBUSD lab rat.”
The group of a few hundred protesters included participants unaffiliated with UnifySB.