Elizabeth Etherton is a veteran teacher at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. She has served preschool students for over 15 years. Over the last two years she has taught from home, adapted her curriculum to constantly changing demands and followed necessary protocols to keep her students safe and learning. But now, she has been told she will be fired on Feb. 28, 2022, for not taking the COVID-19 vaccine. This ultimatum is the result of a federal vaccination requirement for Head Start programs.
Head Start programs are local, largely nonprofit, or governmental providers, like public school districts, that receive federal funding to provide early education services for children two through five years old from low-income families. The services they offer go well beyond the typical preschool, providing nutrition, social skills and other support for growing kids. These teachers, like Elizabeth, have taught kids through ever-changing COVID-19 mitigation measures. They have continued to serve their communities and students despite uncertainty.
Virginia preschool teacher Elizabeth Etherton is suing federal officials, including President Joe Biden, to stop the national vaccine mandate that affects 280,000 Americans employed in programs that received federally funding through Head Start. She is represented by national, nonprofit law firm Liberty Justice Center. In the lawsuit, attorneys argue that the federal government cannot mandate the vaccine for Americans simply because they are employed by an educational program receiving federal funding. This mandate goes beyond the power provided by either Congress or the U.S. Constitution to the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal department that manages Head Start.
On September 9, 2021, President Biden unveiled a comprehensive plan to vaccinate as many Americans as possible against COVID-19. Included as part of that plan were five federal vaccine mandates. President Biden proclaimed that he was fed up with the decisions of some Americans to not get vaccinated and he looked to agency emergency rulemaking and executive orders to force as many people as possible to vaccinate.
Head Start agencies received their mandate on Nov. 30, 2021, when the Office of Head Start under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published an “interim final rule” requiring all staff, contractors, and volunteers to receive a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 31, 2022. It also places a universal mask mandate on all adults and children.
Elizabeth believes the mandate is illegal because it does not follow the lawful ruling process, it exceeds the authority given to HHS by Congress and it violates the U.S. Constitution.
This is the second lawsuit the Liberty Justice Center has filed challenging the federal Head Start mandate. The attorneys also represent Head Start teachers in Louisiana and Ohio in Brick v. Biden with attorneys from the Louisiana-based Pelican Institute for Public Policy. Additionally, in December 2021, the Liberty Justice Center secured a court order blocking the federal government’s vaccine-or-test mandate for private businesses nationwide prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling ending the requirement.