Attorney: Norwalk Community College student denied religious vaccine exemption

Photo of Tara O'Neill
A file photo of the exterior of Norwalk Community College at 188 Richards Ave. in Norwalk, Conn.

A file photo of the exterior of Norwalk Community College at 188 Richards Ave. in Norwalk, Conn.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

NORWALK — A lawyer representing a nursing student at Norwalk Community College claims the student was denied a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement and then allegedly penalized for a conversation on social media linked to the issue.

In a five-page demand letter sent to school administrators, attorney Cameron Atkinson of Pattis & Smith said the college violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendment rights of a nursing student identified by Atkinson as Daisy Prokopiuk.

“A person’s religious convictions are not ‘a problem.’ They are sacred, and the First Amendment prohibits public institutions of higher learning, their employees and their partners from discriminating against a person because of their religious convictions,” Atkinson said in a statement.

The letter claims that Prokopiuk was talking about clinical placements — required for graduation — with Tanisha Tyson by email in October 2020.

Tyson, identified in Atkinson’s letter as the nursing department chair, allegedly told Prokopiuk that the college’s clinical partners would require her to provide a letter from her religious leader on official letterhead about her objection to getting the vaccine.

Prokopiuk allegedly told Tyson a leader was not required to practice a religion.

Tyson allegedly told Prokopiuk her own beliefs would be “insufficient” and that the college wouldn’t work with Prokopiuk to find a site to accommodate her, the letter states.

An NCC spokeswoman declined to comment about the lawsuit.

The conversation continued between Tyson and Prokopiuk through January, the letter states, until Prokopiuk allegedly was given “an ultimatum,” her attorney claimed in the letter. He said his client was told to comply with the vaccine requirement or lose out on completing the clinical hours she needed to graduate.

It was around that same time that, Atkinson said in the letter, Prokopiuk made a post in a Facebook group asking if anyone had a recommendation for a doctor with success vouching for medical exemptions to vaccines. The letter said a woman claiming to be a registered nurse started a dialogue with Prokopiuk and a heated conversation ensued through Facebook messenger.

The other individual allegedly sent some of that conversation to Norwalk Community College and the college responded by “giving (Prokopiuk) a program warning,” the letter said.

In his letter, Atkinson said the college should “unconditionally and immediately remove” Prokopiuk from the program warning status and restore her to good academic standing. Any record of the program warning status should also be expunged from her record, Atkinson said.

“We respectfully ask you to engage in good faith discussions with us to compensate Ms. Prokopiuk for violating her rights and for the opportunities that she has lost because of your actions,” the letter states.

Atkinson requested a response to his letter from the college by April 30. He said his client would like to settle the issue “amicably, but ... she has authorized me to use any legal means necessary to protect her rights and interests.”