By Belle Carter // May 15, 2023
The three Barrington public school teachers fired for refusing the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines have been vindicated after two years of legal battle. According to their lawyer Greg Piccirilli, the Barrington School Committee and the teachers have reached a settlement agreement.
Stephanie Hines, Kerri Thurber and Brittany DiOrio will be fully reinstated to their teaching positions within the Barrington School District should they choose to do so. They are also awarded with $100,000, or $33,333 each, for punitive damages. Hines will also receive $65,000 in back pay; Thurber will receive $128,000; and DiOrio will receive $150,000.
In 2021, the school committee adopted a policy that required all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It was one of only two school districts in Rhode Island to do so.
"Our district was navigating an unprecedented health pandemic and leaned on the important recommendations by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] CDC and the Rhode Island Department of Health to ensure the safety of our students and school community," the district committee said in a statement. "Our then-policy helped combat the pressing public health crisis of the time, while keeping schools open, and [was] one that nearly all faculty and staff adhered to."
All three teachers requested religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, but the authorities rejected their appeal; suspended them without pay; and ultimately fired them effective January 1, 2022.
In May last year, Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear ruled that the district violated "Open Meetings Act" laws over their issuance of the vaccine mandate.
"This case is not about whether mandating vaccinations is appropriate. Regardless of the significant political stance that the public may take for or against that issue, the issue here is whether the Barrington School Committee provided sufficient notice before enacting the Emergency Policy on COVID-19 Related Issues in August and September 2021. This court finds that violations occurred," the ruling stated.
The school committee disagreed with the ruling at the time, saying that the notice was insufficient. "The Court failed to address significant record evidence of the 'totality of the circumstances' surrounding the adoption of the policy, which we believe fairly apprised the public of the nature of the business to be discussed," said Gina Bae, the committee chair.
But it's over now.
"We're extremely gratified that they've been vindicated in their position," said Piccirilli, who will receive $50,000 in attorney's fees as part of the settlement, according to the Boston Globe. "A lot of people were dismissive and skeptical of their claims at the time. They went through a lot of personal trauma dealing with this. Their faith has gotten them through this."
The teachers' two-year battle with the district also took a toll on their names and reputations. The agreement requires their termination records to be expunged, Piccirilli explained in an interview. The lawyer stressed that the teachers' victory isn't only a vindication for them, but an example for others facing a similar situation. (Related: FINALLY: Federal judge strikes down school mask and vaccine mandates.)
Members of Barrington School Committee want to end vaccine mandate
In March, members of the Barrington School Committee talked about ending the vaccine mandate for staff.
One of the members named Frazier Bell said he'd like to see the requirement change so they can hire more teachers in the district. "We're going to be hiring teachers before this expires in June and I think it makes sense to amend it," Bell said. But the district superintendent disagreed at the time, saying the policy has not hindered their ability to hire more staff.
"Right now, it hasn't hindered us from hiring, but everything is changing in society right now," said Barrington Public Schools Superintendent Michael Messore, but added that he's willing to follow whatever decision is made by the policy committee.
The proposed policy change will be reviewed by a subcommittee and sent back to the school committee for an official vote. The current policy is set to expire in June.
Watch the video below where Del Bigtree and Jefferey Jaxen discuss how the public rejects the COVID-19 vaccine mandates in schools.
This video is from the mh4bright channel on Brighteon.com.