A nurse administers a COVID-19 vaccine in East Hartford.
A nurse administers a COVID-19 vaccine in East Hartford. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Fifteen teachers from around the state sued Gov. Ned Lamont and Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani for mandating the COVID-19 vaccine or weekly testing before his executive powers expired on Feb. 15. 

The vaccine and testing mandates were imposed in the fall of 2021 as a condition of employment. The federal lawsuit said the mandate violated the teachers’ right to bodily autonomy, medical privacy and equal protection.

“We are history teachers, science teachers, physical education teachers and school psychologists. It’s our job to teach our students to think critically, to speak up and advocate for themselves, to respect the scientific method, and to remember their bodies and their lives are their own,” said North Stonington teacher Michael Costanza. “As educators, it is our responsibility to teach the next generation by example. That is why we are standing up.”

The lawsuit filed by attorney Matthew Carlone says there was no scientific evidence to require teachers to get the vaccine or to submit to weekly testing. 

“In a public health emergency, a vaccine mandate can only be granted legally if the vaccine stops transmission. We know the vaccines do not stop transmission of COVID-19 and the data demonstrates they actually increase the likelihood of catching the omicron variant,” Carlone said. “The idea that the government can force you to take a drug against your will that makes you more likely to get sick is unconscionable and indefensible.”

The state believes the teachers don’t have a case. 

“Our state’s constitution is unambiguous — the Governor has broad authority during public health and civil preparedness emergencies to take steps that save lives. We have not lost a single case on that point and we have no reason to believe this challenge will be any different,” Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. 

As a result of the mandate, Carlone said, “Some have lost their livelihood while others have been forced to accept treatment as second-class citizens.” 

“The mandates issued by the state blatantly violate our civil and constitutional rights,” said New Haven teacher Jim Bellantoni. “By law, with any EUA (emergency use authorization) product, we must be informed of our right to say no, and our decision must be free from coercion of any sort. Imposing mandatory testing as a consequence of exercising our right to say no, or threatening our jobs as a consequence of exercising our right to say no, is unarguably coercion.”

Lamont decided not to extend the mandate when he handed the General Assembly 11 executive orders to extend until April 15. The vaccine mandate and weekly testing requirement expired on Feb. 15. 

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction preventing enforcement of any future executive order that would do the same.