Emporia nursing student who refused COVID-19 vaccine allowed to complete degree

By: - April 15, 2022 8:30 am
Newman Regional Health partners with Flint Hills Technical College so its nursing students can complete clinicals, required training that provides real-life experience at emergency facilities. Before changing its policy on March 11, the hospital only allowed employees, not students, to requisition a vaccine exemption. (Margaret Mellott for Kansas Reflector)

Newman Regional Health partners with Flint Hills Technical College so its nursing students can complete clinicals, required training that provides real-life experience at emergency facilities. Before changing its policy on March 11, the hospital only allowed employees, not students, to requisition a vaccine exemption. (Margaret Mellott for Kansas Reflector)

EMPORIA — Following Newman Regional Health’s “change in position” regarding students not vaccinated against COVID-19, a Flint Hills Technical College nursing student has been allowed to finish her degree.

“Flint Hills Technical College announced in court (March 11) that they would reverse course and honor nursing student Molly Ellis’ religious beliefs and provide her nursing clinical studies at Newman Regional Hospital,” said Linus Baker, the Johnson County attorney who represented the plaintiff.

Just more than a month after filing a lawsuit, Ellis has been allowed to complete her remaining clinicals — required training that provides real-life experience at emergency facilities — as well as the ones she missed at the beginning of the spring semester. Lyon County District Judge W. Lee Fowler issued an injunction in February to block FHTC from failing Ellis.

Flint Hills Technical College nursing student Molly Ellis will be allowed to finish out the semester with a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Margaret Mellott for Kansas Reflector)
Flint Hills Technical College nursing student Molly Ellis will be allowed to finish out the semester with a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Margaret Mellott for Kansas Reflector)

FHTC partners with Newman Regional Health in Emporia for students to earn field experience. When the lawsuit was filed, Newman Regional Health allowed exemptions for employees but not for students. This changed on March 11, when the hospital adapted its policy to allow students to file exemptions.

“Due to a change of position by Newman Regional Health,” said Clark Allemang, the Emporia attorney representing Kim McNeese, director of the nursing program at FHTC, “Flint Hills Technical College and Kim McNeese, D.O.N., have been able to obtain approval from Newman Regional Health allowing Molly access to participate in clinicals without COVID-19 immunization. Molly is now participating in clinicals at Newman Regional Health.”

During an earlier court hearing, Ellis testified she refused the COVID-19 vaccine because of “fetal lining taken from abortions a couple of decades ago.” While fetal cell lining was used in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, according to the National Institutes for Health, it wasn’t used in the production of the shots.

Though Ellis will be allowed to continue her education, litigation against FHTC and McNeese remains ongoing.

“While (allowing Ellis to complete her clinicals) resolves the bulk of the issues, the parties have not resolved the litigation,” Baker said. “But it does allow Molly to keep her religious convictions while completing her nursing degree at Flint Hills.”

In February, an unlawful discrimination lawsuit was filed against Flint Hills Technical College and the director of its nursing program, Kim McNeese. The litigation remains unsettled. (Margaret Mellott for Kansas Reflector)
In February, an unlawful discrimination lawsuit was filed against Flint Hills Technical College and the director of its nursing program, Kim McNeese. The litigation remains unsettled. (Margaret Mellott for Kansas Reflector)

In email correspondence between attorneys on March 21, FHTC attorney Monte Miller said Baker was acting in “bad faith” by refusing to specify a settlement proposal.

“Respectfully, any plaintiff that is evasive as to what specific relief is being sought seems to be an indicator of bad faith, churning for fees, and acting against the best interests of their client and judicial economy,” Miller wrote. “In good faith, we are asking you to provide your settlement proposal, or do we need to get Judge Fowler involved for his direction?”

Shortly after that email was sent, Baker responded.

“You know, Monte,” Baker wrote, “you’re doing that on purpose — questioning my ethics. I don’t have to negotiate the way you think I should if you’ve got a better way to negotiate get after it (soon). Until then, stop the flame throwing.”

The semester will be extended for Ellis, with her making up missed clinicals on May 17, 19, 24 and 26.

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Margaret Mellott
Margaret Mellott

Margaret Mellott is a recent Emporia State University graduate of communication and journalism. During their time at ESU, they spent all four years on the campus paper, The Bulletin. She also spent one year with The Campus Ledger at Johnson County Community College. Outside of collegiate journalism, Mellott has also worked on projects for Vintage KC Magazine and Humanities Kansas.

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