2021 | Courts

UPDATED: Lawsuit challenging MCPS’ COVID-19 vaccine requirement dismissed

Employee argued lack of religious exemption option was illegal; district later relented

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This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. Nov. 4, 2021, to add figures on employee vaccinations and requests for exemptions.

A federal lawsuit challenging Montgomery County Public Schools’ COVID-19 vaccination mandate was dismissed this week, after the district granted the employees’ request to be exempted because of his religious beliefs.

In September — about two weeks after MCPS announced it was tightening its vaccination requirement to remove the option for most employees to instead be tested — an administrative employee filed the lawsuit, arguing that the district’s refusal to honor religious exemptions was illegal.

When the updated requirements for MCPS’ 25,000 employees were announced, multiple district leaders said religious exemptions would not be allowed. Medical exemptions were outlined in the policy as allowable.

Within days of the employee filing his lawsuit, however, MCPS reversed course, sending what it called a “clarifying message” to staff members and telling Bethesda Beat that employees “may submit either a medical or religious exemption.”

In court documents, MCPS wrote that it had granted the employee’s exemption request on Oct. 5 — about a week after the lawsuit was filed. At that time, the district asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

On Oct. 29, the employee’s attorneys submitted a filing to the court, asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed. U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang dismissed the case on Monday.

The employee was not identified in court documents, but was described as an “administrative employee” who is a “faithful Christian” with a religious objection to “the usage of aborted fetal cells in the testing, creation and manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

According to several medical organizations, including UCLA Health, COVID-19 vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells.

Johnson & Johnson, however, used “fetal cell lines” — grown in a laboratory and started with cells from elective abortions that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s — to develop and produce its vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna used fetal cell lines to test the effectiveness of their vaccines, according to UCLA Health and the Nebraska Medical Center.

Several common medications — like Tylenol, Tums, Benadryl and Sudafed — are developed in similar ways during research and development, according to WebMD.

The employee had asked the federal judge to impose a preliminary injunction against the school district, which would have prohibited MCPS from enforcing its vaccination mandate.

According to figures MCPS provided on Thursday, out of 24,563 employees, 22,000 have been vaccinated, 598 are unvaccinated and 1,965 have not provided their status.

The district has received 264 requests for religious exemptions and 197 requests for medical exemptions.

The deadline for employees to provide proof of being fully vaccinated is Nov. 15.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com