To reduce confusion about the many things you may be hearing about our current situation, we have attempted to respond to the most common inquiries we are receiving with a few simple FAQs. Clearly this is a continuously changing landscape, and we will update this document as warranted.
Now that the Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA (and approvals of other vaccines may follow shortly), there is little to prevent employers from requiring the vaccine under current court precedent. We will be watching relevant court cases for any potential relief from vaccine mandates. (See FAQ #4 re: religious and medical accommodations.)
It is legal for the district to ask your status, but you cannot be forced to reveal such. However, should you choose not to disclose your vaccination status, school districts will be within their rights to withhold incentives or privileges that they provide to those vaccinated.
Yes, districts are required to create a safe work and schooling environment and therefore follow the recommendations of state and local health agencies.
Furthermore, regular COVID-19 testing is being given as an option in many states should you choose not to be vaccinated. We believe school districts are legally allowed to require testing but will be monitoring any court cases that may arise. While many districts are paying for the tests, if your district does not, the CARES Act requires your health insurance to cover the cost.
If you have a medical reason for not taking the particular test the district has chosen, you can ask for a medical accommodation so another form of testing can be used.
4. Can I avoid being vaccinated or wearing a mask by asking for a religious or medical accommodation?
In some cases you can. A medical accommodation must be backed by a physician, and you should have a Biblical justification for a religious accommodation. In most states, the district must abide by such requests if not causing a hardship, but there are limits to what they must do. Not all accommodation requests are successful, and many are only partly successful. Finally, some accommodation arrangements may remove you from contact with students, thereby inhibiting your ability to carry out your God-given calling to teach and love them.
To request a medical accommodation for vaccines or masks, consult with your physician. These accommodations are given at the discretion of your physician.
To request a religious accommodation for vaccines, we recommend you use the information provided by Pacific Justice Institute here (or access through pacificjustice.org). While many organizations are offering form letters for your use, some employers are interpreting copied form letters as evidence of a lack of sincerely-held religious beliefs. Write the letter in your own words.
That being said, if you would like assistance with specific facts or ideas to include in your letter, Liberty Counsel has helpful examples here. However, we do not recommend copying language from them verbatim.
Given the recency of mask requirements, there is no clear established precedent for religious accommodations to avoid wearing masks. This current case out of Michigan may provide ideas for how to construct a religious accommodation argument, but the initial District Court ruling against it also demonstrates the difficulty of success.
Unfortunately, it likely does not make any difference because it is the opinion of government health agencies that you should still be vaccinated. Those agencies maintain that no one knows how long the antibodies will last.
6. As an insured Member with Coverage, will CEAI support me if I refuse to wear a mask or get a vaccine?
Yes, should your job be threatened, you would have the services of a local attorney to represent you up to the coverage limits. Second, your membership provides unlimited legal and educational consultation with our staff. However, we cannot guarantee that you will keep your job if you refuse to comply with lawful mandates.
7. If I am included in a lawsuit related to the implementation of COVID protocols in my school, would CEAI membership protect me?
Yes, if you are an insured Member with Coverage, you are protected in the case of lawsuits by our $2 million Professional Liability policy. This coverage protects you against a broad range of exposures associated with your educational/school duties.
8. Can a district treat vaccinated and unvaccinated differently, for example by requiring unvaccinated staff to wear masks or be tested regularly? Isn't this illegal discrimination?
It certainly feels discriminatory and is sometimes practiced in ways that don’t seem to be consistent with science or logic. However, unfortunately as of now it is legal as the unvaccinated are not a protected class covered by anti-discrimination laws such as age, religion, gender, and race. According to some legal opinions, a potential exception to this is if an employee has been granted a religious exemption and is now being treated differently than other employees in a way that goes beyond reasonable health and safety measures.
A Time For Courageous Educators
As Christian educators we cannot live out of fear in this time of COVID-19. Listen to this heartfelt message from CEAI Executive Director David Schmus calling us to courageously seek first His kingdom as we consider going back to school.
CEAI Guidance: In-Person Schooling During COVID-19
This season of battling COVID while attempting to provide a meaningful education has certainly been a challenge. Many of our members have contacted us with questions that school employees have never had to face before: In order to physically open schools, can a school district mandate precautions like face masks or daily temperature checks? Can I be required to submit to COVID-19 testing, or a vaccination?