On Tuesday, UnifySB, an association of Santa Barbara teachers, coaches, and staff, was successful in protecting its members’ constitutional and civil rights against the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD).
On September 23, 2021, SBUSD voted into effect a vaccine mandate that would require all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face termination. The members of UnifySB could not comply with this mandate because of their sincerely held religious beliefs. As a result, they filed for religious exemptions to SBUSD’s draconian mandate.
In response, however, on October 27, 2021, “SBUSD gave its employees two choices: (1) take the COVID-19 vaccine against their wishes and civil rights; or (2) be placed on unpaid leave starting on December 17, 2021, then terminated on March 25, 2022. However, the members of UnifySB, chose a third option: to fight for their rights in the court of law,” said Tony Black, attorney for UnifySB.
On the eve of UnifySB filing their complaint and after filing for a right to sue under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), SBUSD mailed out an amended accommodation offer—this time, it was more reasonable. Per the agreement, employees of the SBUSD were offered to keep their employment if they agree to engage in the twice-weekly COVID testing, wear an N95 mask while at work, and social distance whenever practicable.
“This is a huge win for the employees of SBUSD but more importantly for the Constitution and Civil Rights of UnifySB members. Although we’re in a pandemic, we must not forget to act while respecting individual liberties. Upholding the rule of law, even when it’s scary and hard to do so, is what makes America special,” said Tony Black, who also added that he, himself is fully vaccinated.