They stuck to their anti-vax beliefs. Now these teachers and school workers are unemployed


LOS ANGELES – Two teachers, a teaching assistant and a cafeteria director – all opposed the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for Los Angeles school employees. One remains a teacher, but has lost a beloved position; another was immediately dismissed. An employee who has obtained an exemption is out of work anyway. And yet another gave in to a last-minute jab, but only because of a family crisis.

Their anti-vaccine views are aberrant among some 73,000 colleagues, 95% of whom have received at least one injection. But Jamal Y. Speakes Sr., Hovik Saponghian, Angela Karapetyan and Nadine Jackson have paid the price for sticking to their personal beliefs in the face of public health policy mandates and experts who cite strong evidence that COVID-vaccines 19 are safe and effective.

The Los Angeles Unified School District was one of the first school systems in the country to require employees to be immunized. The October 15 deadline caused a last-minute wave among thousands of hesitant people. No vaccine meant no entry to campus – and probably no job.

Similar vaccination deadlines – and decisions – are approaching for City of Los Angeles employees, including police and firefighters, who were granted an extension this week to get vaccinated before Dec. 18 or face “Corrective measures”, which include initiating a dismissal process.

According to recent figures provided by LA Unified, 2,214 district employees have not requested or received an exemption. They have lost their jobs or are in the process of doing so. About 1,500 others received exemptions – 175 for a serious health problem or disability, and 1325 for “sincere religious belief”.

Veteran high school teacher Speakes requested a religious exemption and was granted one. The cost? He had to abandon the popular film production program he had built at the Valley Oaks Center for Enriched Studies in Sun Valley. Her classes focused on teaching students behind-the-camera skills.

“In light of my serious beliefs that God follows, my heart, soul and spirit belong to Almighty Creator Elohim,” said Speakes, 50, “it is against my faith and my conscience to have everything this injected into my body. I truly believe that the God given immune system has been shown to be the strongest against communicable diseases. “

He also has other justifications, including a distrust “as an African-American man with a prolonged negative history with this country and his government experiences.” He refers, in part, to Tuskegee’s experiments from 1932 to 1972, in which U.S. government researchers used black men with syphilis to study the effects of the disease rather than trying to treat or cure them. to cure.

Speakes has been assigned to City of Angels, a distance learning program where the teacher has no face-to-face contact with students or colleagues. His transfers of teachers and others have typically displaced a replacement or another teacher already working with a group of students, further disrupting a program that has been chaotic and ineffective for many.

His new assignment is a tall order.

“I’m a film teacher and my classes are AP calculus, AP US history, government, health, biology, physical education, and chemistry,” Speakes said. While students are expected to work independently on a digital platform called Edgenuity, “what if a student has a question or has special needs and needs help with [calculus], or chemistry? They won’t be able to get any answers or help from me, who is supposed to be their teacher.

The students he left behind aren’t doing so well either.

“School won’t be the same without Mr. Speakes,” said junior Steve Orantes. “He always brought energy and joy to his classes. But today, no one has felt it.

According to Orantes and another student, a substitute teacher would ask students to sit quietly and do their homework for other classes. Some students played with their phones.

Hovik Saponghian, teaching assistant at Saticoy Primary School, also in Sun Valley, has successfully applied for a religious exemption but cannot return to this campus and it seems unlikely that he will keep his job anywhere in LA Unified.

A teaching assistant is a face-to-face job, which is prohibited for the unvaccinated.

“My Christian faith influences me and the idea of ​​being careful about what I put in my body and having the ability to decide what to do is something that I believe applies to everyone. whether you are religious or not, said Saponghian, who likes other interviewees has a long list of reasons. “I had COVID and the flu was significantly worse than COVID for me. I also don’t like the fact that the companies that make these vaccines are unreliable or responsible for health risks. “

As a teaching assistant, he had grown closer to the children at his school while pursuing his own education and had hoped to return as their full-fledged teacher next year, especially in an Armenian bilingual program.

“Words cannot explain the joy I feel working with these children and the joy to see them speak, read and write in Armenian,” said Saponghian. “I miss these kids every day.

Saponghian will be paid until October 31st and will go into unpaid status. Some displaced but exempt employees use vacation and sick days and then plan to spend months on unpaid leave, perhaps working temporary jobs – in hopes the tenure will be dropped before next fall.

The consequence is official for Angela Karapetyan; this week the Granada Hills Charter board fired the math teacher with 18 years of experience along with seven other employees. Karapetyan, 39, said she and other employees offered to take daily coronavirus tests, pay for their own tests, wear double masks.

“Teaching is what I’ve loved doing my whole life,” said Karapetyan, who took three algebra classes and three pre-calculus classes this year. “It’s the only career I’ve ever had. I never wanted to do anything else.

COVID has directly affected his family. Her case was mild, but her husband had to be hospitalized around last Thanksgiving.

“There is a reason I survived COVID,” she said. “There’s a reason God wants me to be here. I can’t go with this vaccine and neither can my family. “

She plans to remove her 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son from LA schools once the tenure reaches them. Maybe she will home school or find a private school. But you also have to face the loss of your income and benefits.

Nadine Jackson, the food service manager at Banning High School in San Pedro, was so strongly opposed to the vaccination that she rang in a letter to the Board of Education, calling “all the decision-makers who have decided to deprive us of our freedom to choose, from those who have not stood up for us knowing it is wrong, and those who are afraid to speak up.

She blames a flu shot 12 years ago for a serious attack that brought her to the hospital and for her asthma.

Jackson, 51, is a proud LA Unified alumnus who graduated from high school in 1989 as a teenage parent, completing an alternative program at Watts for students at risk of dropping out.

Her “first real job,” as she put it, was a three-hour cafeteria clerk at Drew Middle School. She takes classes in her free time and progresses gradually: cafeteria senior, cafeteria manager I, II and III. She worked at Castelar Elementary, Dorsey High, Fleming Middle, again at Drew Middle and finally at Banning – overseeing a team of 11 people.

After schools closed on March 13, 2020, Jackson was there the first day LA Unified began distributing meals to the community.

“Some days we served over 14,000 bags of food and that doesn’t include the boxes from the food bank. We – I – were there every day, ”Jackson said. “We have been praised and viewed as heroes. “

She has also worked shifts as a licensed professional nurse, including treating COVID patients.

“We went from heroes to zero,” she said. “As an American, where I thought we were free, I choose to say what’s going on in my body.

“I am the person who received a Certificate of Appreciation a few weeks ago,” she said in her letter to Council, “with all your signatures, thanking me and congratulating me on thirty years of service in this district.”

Jackson was determined – looking at jobs at Amazon and thinking about running a platform – until the unexpected happened.

On September 29, a motorbike accident on the highway left her husband with a broken arm, a fractured pelvis and a detached spine. He underwent three major surgeries in one week. He can’t work, and LA Unified’s health benefits have suddenly become a lifeline.

“I have a new battle and losing is not an option,” Jackson said. “I have to fight to give my husband back to full health. “

She told her colleagues, “The devil has been busy. One of them replied, “Maybe God has been busy making sure you get vaccinated.” “

Although her opinions remain unchanged, the day before the deadline, Thursday, October 14, she was vaccinated.

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