Jeff Landry sues Louisiana medical school over vaccine mandate

Three students denied religious exemption to COVID-19 vaccine mandate, suit claims

By: - August 4, 2021 3:05 pm
Jeff Landry sues ULM med school over vaccine mandate

Attorney General Jeff Landry and elected officials from other state sued over President Joe Biden’s decision to pause oil and gas leases.(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has filed a federal lawsuit against a medical college housed on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Monroe (ULM) on behalf of three students who were denied an exemption to the school’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement. 

Landry filed the suit on Tuesday in the U.S. Western District Court in Monroe, requesting a temporary restraining order against the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) on behalf of students Rachel Lynn Magliulo, Matthew Shea Willis and Kirsten Willis Hall. 

The complaint argues that the students, who are all enrolled at VCOM for the Fall 2021 semester, were denied religious exemptions to the school’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and told they would not be able to continue their education until they received the vaccine.

VCOM is a private school that has a partnership agreement with ULM. 

The pandemic reached new levels of concern this week with a record-setting number of hospitalizations and nearly 5,000 new cases per day, prompting Gov. John Bel Edwards to reinstate the statewide mask mandate. Private organizations, such as businesses and hospitals, followed suit by requiring visitors to wear face masks and mandating vaccinations among staff.

VCOM’s Student Health Requirements state: “Regulatory and legislative authorities require that students demonstrate immunization, immunity or protection from multiple contagious diseases before being allowed to participate in clinical experiences at the institutions utilized by VCOM for the education of its students.”

The complaint argues that the school’s requirement that new students receive a COVID-19 vaccine has “never been formally added to VCOM’s existing Student Health Requirements policy.” Landry uses guidance from the Centers for Disease Control to support his argument that people who are not fully vaccinated can wear a face mask to protect themselves and others. 

On Tuesday, Landry distributed a memo to his own staff members that advised them on how to circumvent face mask requirements at public schools. 

The complaint argues that VCOM is in violation of Louisiana’s statute on school vaccination requirements, which offers a waiver to students who submit a “written dissent” or a doctor’s excuse.

Landry is requesting the court grant a temporary restraining order barring the school from mandating the vaccine, as well as a permanent injunction following a hearing on the merits of the case.

The college has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit, and a school spokesperson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Osteopathy is a field of medicine that emphasizes a whole-person approach to treatment and tends to focus more on physical therapies for the body than drugs or invasive treatments. Graduates from an osteopathic medical school receive a D.O. degree rather than the traditional M.D. carried by most physicians but can still prescribe medicines and perform surgeries. 

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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