Louisiana osteopathic medical school settles with students over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Three unvaccinated students no longer seek monetary compensation

By: - October 19, 2021 2:32 pm

Moderna recipients who are over age 65 or at higher risk due to their medical condition or work environment also are eligible for a partial third dose at least six months after their second shot. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A northeast Louisiana osteopathic medical college and three of its students who did not want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 have reached a settlement that ensures the students won’t be kept out of classes they need to graduate, according to settlement documents filed in federal court Tuesday. 

U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty signed off on an agreement in which Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) will recognize coronavirus vaccine exemptions for students Rachel Lynn Magliulo, Matthew Shea Willis and Kristen Willis Hall, despite the school’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students and staff. 

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The three students may still have to abide by “reasonable safety measures” for unvaccinated individuals as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Institutions for Higher Education, according to the settlement agreement, as long as those measures don’t conflict with Louisiana state law. 

The students said VCOM initially sought to force them to get vaccinated under a COVID-19 vaccine mandate issued in July, ahead of the new school year starting. Once the students threatened a lawsuit, VCOM then backed off that initial requirement and said the students could enroll, but would have to disclose their unvaccinated status to classmates and couldn’t participate in clinical training required to graduate. 

In August, Doughty granted the students a temporary restraining order against VCOM over these restrictions. The judge ruled that VCOM was violating state law — which allows broadly for vaccination dissent among public school students of all ages. The school could not keep unvaccinated students from participating in training that they needed to graduate under Louisiana law, he said.

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Other private higher education institutions have implemented vaccine mandates, but VCOM operates on the University of Louisiana at Monroe campus. A cooperative agreement between VCOM and ULM means VCOM doesn’t have the authority to issue vaccine mandates as other private colleges in Louisiana might, he said.

As part of the settlement released Tuesday, VCOM is prohibited from telling any medical residency program that the three students have refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The students have also agreed not to take a position on whether VCOM violated the law when it tried to force them to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

The students are also dropping their pursuit of monetary damages against VCOM and a member of its staff for allegedly embarrassing the individuals through an email to the student body referencing their unvaccinated status. The students had also alleged a member of VCOM’s staff had indirectly blamed the three of them for the canceling of clinical training for the entire student body this fall. That additional claim has also been scuttled through the settlement.

The students’ case against VCOM first became high profile because of Attorney General Jeff Landry’s initial involvement. Landry wanted to join the case on behalf of the students, but ended up filing an amicus brief (a statement of support) for the students after the judge said it wouldn’t be appropriate for his office to be part of the case.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

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