The three students who are suing a north Louisiana medical school over its COVID-19 vaccination policy filed a new motion Monday alleging a college administrator belittled them in an email last week in an attempt to “turn the student body against them."
The students, Rachel Lynn Magliulo, Matthew Shea Willis and Kirsten Willis Hall, filed a motion for contempt against the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) — a private college that leases land on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
The motion for contempt comes less than a week after Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court in Monroe granted a temporary restraining order that prohibited the medical school from mandating the students receive a coronavirus vaccination as a condition of enrollment or partaking in certain training.
The students say VCOM Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Nathan Kinnard sent a “passive aggressive" email to the entire college that called Louisiana's school vaccination laws “antiquated" and belittled the three unvaccinated students, though the email did not refer to the students by name.
According to the email, Kinnard began by writing that he wanted to dispel rumors that have been circulating about the ongoing litigation. He wrote that Louisiana's low vaccination rate has rendered some clinical training courses unsafe.
“Unfortunately, we are facing a dilemma: Louisiana has one of the highest numbers of new cases of Covid-19 and one of the lowest vaccination rates, the situation does not provide for a safe clinical experience for students who are not vaccinated or for patients," Kinnard wrote. “We would simply not be able to protect the potential patients or any unvaccinated students and so we were forced to cancel these."
Michael L. DuBos, who is representing the students, argues in the motion that Kinnard's email blamed the three unvaccinated students for the college being forced to cancel two blocks of clinical training.
Kinnard also referred directly to the lawsuit in his email, writing that the medical school — which has a main campus in Virginia and just opened its satellite college in Monroe last year — was initially unaware Louisiana had “such an antiquated law" on student vaccinations. Kinnard said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry's office and Liberty Counsel, the law firm representing the students, did not contact VCOM before filing the lawsuit or sending any letters.
“There are those who wish to make this a political issue rather than a public health issue it is," Kinnard wrote.
Kinnard also discouraged any “unprofessional conduct" toward the unvaccinated students, writing that such conduct is against school policy.
VCOM administrators issued a statement to the Illuminator on Tuesday that read, in part: “VCOM is more concerned that the continued court filings, all of which identify these students by name and are then provided to the media by their legal counsel, continuously separate these students from their classmates."
VCOM said student officers had asked Kinnard to write the email to dispel rumors and ensure that any retaliation against the unvaccinated students would not be tolerated.
“The reason the early clinical experiences were cancelled was to ensure that elderly patients would not be exposed to potential carriers of the virus," the VCOM statement read. “As research shows that even vaccinated individuals have the potential to be carriers of the virus, nothing in the email was retaliatory."
The medical school also said the “antiquated law" comment was made in reference to a statute that had been in effect for some time but had no case law associated with it and that the term was not a creation of Kinnard's.
VCOM had granted the students exemptions to its vaccine mandate on Aug. 6, just days after the students filed their initial lawsuit Aug. 4.
In last week's ruling, Doughty wrote that VCOM placed “excessive" restrictions on the three unvaccinated students that included requiring them to disclose their unvaccinated status to classmates with whom they came into close contact and restricting them from participating in clinical training that is required in order to graduate.
In a phone call Tuesday, DuBos said Kinnard's email was “completely unnecessary," but he did not want to comment further.
VCOM's full response to the Illuminator:
VCOM has not and will not retaliate against the VCOM students. The allegations raised in this most recent filing lack merit. VCOM granted the student waivers to the vaccine on 8/6/2021.
The Associate Dean for Student Affairs frequently emails the student body on matters of concern related to the student body. He was asked by student officers to dispel rumors and to ensure all students were aware that any type of retaliation against the students would not be tolerated. The email clearly addressed this. In addition, the email addressed other questions the Associate Dean had been asked to address, including why international rotations were cancelled and why the early clinical experiences had been canceled. The reason international experiences were cancelled was the rising number of cases in the countries where these occur. The reason the early clinical experiences were cancelled was to ensure that elderly patients would not be exposed to potential carriers of the virus. As research shows that even vaccinated individuals have the potential to be carriers of the virus, nothing in the email was retaliatory.
VCOM is more concerned that the continued court filings, all of which identify these students by name and are then provided to the media by their legal counsel, continuously separate these students from their classmates.
There was no reason for this filing. In fact, to justify it, legal counsel referred to conversations alleged to have occurred in July (prior to the complaint), many of which have been mischaracterized, and none of which would apply to the order today.
The references to LSU in this memo are obviously an effort to alienate VCOM from its peer institutions. VCOM administration has met with LSU medical school administration many times and have a positive relationship. VCOM holds the LSU medical school in high regard, and the allegations are just an attempt by the students' attorneys to separate VCOM from the other medical schools within the state, all of which support vaccination.
The reference regarding the “antiquated law" was made in reference to “a law that had been in effect for some time but where no actual case could be identified where such law had been applied." The term had been used in conversation on campus and was not a creation of Mr. Kinnard.
VCOM continues to abide by the terms of the temporary restraining order.
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