Three Bend-La Pine School District teachers were fired Tuesday over failure to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19.
By a 6-0 vote of the school board, Mark Schulz, Zach Webb and Kelly Lundy were all terminated.
The teachers were first placed on leave in October 2021. Tuesday’s termination hearing was set after the teachers failed to submit proof of vaccination or religious exemption by last fall’s deadline.
Schulz taught at Mountain View High School for 26 years and Webb taught at La Pine Middle School for five years before they were placed on unpaid leave. Lundy, was a teacher at Ensworth Elementary and spoke to Central Oregon Daily News on the issue last year.
Nearly 40 people were at the meeting holding signs and showing support for the educators during the emergency public hearing.
All three teachers and the district were given 10 minutes to provide testimony.
“This, from the district’s perspective, is strictly an issue of the district needing to follow the law,” said Chief Human Resources Officer for Bend-La Pine Schools, Steven Herron.
“I felt like their wasn’t enough time or effort put into researching that vaccine in order to be safe,” said Schulz during the testimony.
“So my only other option would be to submit a religious exception form,” said Webb on why he did not get an exception. “The only problem is I don’t have a religious conviction for this vaccine.”
“You might argue that I had a choice, but I was not given a choice,” said Lundy. “A choice would have been to say no. Yet here I am in a position before you because my choice was no.”
The hearing allowed the board to approve or deny superintendent Steve Cook’s recommendation to terminate the employees.
The school board voted unanimously to fire all three teachers.
“The regulations passed by OHA disallow us from having these teachers work in our classrooms,” said Board Chair for BLS Melissa Barnes Dholakia. “So, really we only had one choice, to uphold the recommendation.”
“I said make some decisions with your heart not according to rule and we never got that,” said Schulz. “We never got any backing from the district.”
At least one of the three teachers says they will appeal.
“I have nothing against the vaccine,” Webb told Central Oregon Daily News a few hours before the hearing. “Those who chose to do it, good for you. For me, it was all about not complying to the mandate that the government was holding over our heads.”
Webb and Schulz say there were 25 staff members in a similar situation. But this hearing was called due to their classified status.
“I think I’m ready for some closure, I’m ready to move on,” said Schulz before the hearing. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity to address the board tonight. Not in a malicious way but just in truth and fact, and a chance to share from our angle a little bit, so I’m grateful for that.”
Webb said before the hearing that he didn’t expect to get his job back.
“But what I do want is people to be aware that here we are a year later and yet here we are still dealing with these mandates that Kate Brown and OHA put into place,” said Webb.
Lundy provided Central Oregon Daily News with a statement before Tuesday’s hearing.
“I feel at peace going into this hearing. While it has taken the school district far too long to hold a hearing and terminate me, I have moved on with my life. The decision made tonight will not be life altering for me,” said Lundy.