End of the road for Barrington Schools’ vaccine mandate

Committee amends policy — vaccine encouraged but not required

By Josh Bickford
Posted 4/21/23

The Barrington School Committee has voted unanimously to end the district’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

At its meeting on Thursday, April 20, the committee voted 3-0 to amend the policy that …

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End of the road for Barrington Schools’ vaccine mandate

Committee amends policy — vaccine encouraged but not required

Posted

The Barrington School Committee has voted unanimously to end the district’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

At its meeting on Thursday, April 20, the committee voted 3-0 to amend the policy that had required Barrington educators, volunteers and visitors to be fully vaccinated. (Patrick McCrann, TJ Peck and Amanda Basse voted to approve the amended policy; Frazier Bell and Megan Douglas did not attend the meeting.)

The newly-approved language in the policy changes the “requirement” to an “encouragement.” 

“Barrington Public Schools continues to encourage all staff and students to be fully vaccinated to assist in reducing disease severity and transmission,” stated the amended language.

In addition, Barrington School Committee members stated that the policy is due to sunset at the end of the current school year. 

Barrington was one of the few public school districts in the state to have a vaccine mandate. The vast majority of its teachers followed the mandate and were fully vaccinated, but some did not. 

Three former teachers, Kerri Thurber, Brittany DiOrio and Stephanie Hines, filed religious exemption requests with the district in 2021, but were denied and later fired. 

The three teachers have since appealed the decision and have filed numerous lawsuits against various groups. They have lawsuits against the former Barrington School Committee, their own teachers union, and other groups. 

Their appeal to the School Committee’s decision to uphold the superintendent’s move to terminate the teachers is scheduled to go before the Rhode Island Department of Education commissioner’s office in late June. 

Legal counsel

The vote to end the school district’s vaccine mandate was taken just minutes after the Barrington School Committee voted unanimously to consider new legal counsel in its pending litigation with DiOrio, Thurber and Hines. 

The district’s former legal counsel, Corrente, Whelan and Flanders, had sent an engagement agreement to the School Committee on April 12. The agreement called for Corrente, Whelan and Flanders to continue representing the school district on the lawsuit with DiOrio, Hines and Thurber, and a second lawsuit titled T. Doe vs. Barrington School Department.

School Committee members McCrann, Peck and Basse voted unanimously to allow Corrente, Whelan and Flanders to remain as legal counsel for the T. Doe case, but not necessarily for the lawsuit with DiOrio, Thurber and Hines.

In a followup interview, McCrann told the Barrington Times that their vote opens the door for the School Committee to use different legal counsel in the lawsuit with the former teachers. 

McCrann said the case has presented a significant legal challenge for the school district. 

“Our job is not to spend money on lawyers,” McCrann said. “Our job is to spend money on education.”

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