The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

November 10, 2012

Judge: County must educate unvaccinated girl

ELKINS — A judge says the Randolph County Board of Education must continue to provide homebound instruction to a high school senior who has refused to get state-mandated vaccinations.

The InterMountain reports that Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong issued the ruling Thursday.

Olivia Hudok and father Phil had sued the school board in September, seeking a religious exemption that would let Olivia resume classes at the Pickens School. It’s the state’s smallest public school, with just 37 students. Olivia is one of only three seniors.

Wilfong had previously ordered the district to provide instruction while another lawsuit over immunizations played out in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

On Oct. 17, that court upheld the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ rule that all seventh- through 12th-graders get Tdap and MCV4 booster vaccinations. The immunizations are designed to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and meningitis.

The school board then sought a dismissal of Wilfong’s temporary order.

Attorney Greg Bailey argued Randolph County has no jurisdiction over the matter, which involved a state agency and was resolved in the legally appropriate venue for state policies.

But the Hudoks’ attorney, Patrick Lane, said that would deny Olivia her right to a public education, which the county is legally obliged to provide.

Wilfong said her ruling will stand until the West Virginia Supreme Court offers some further guidance.

“Everything with my homebound schooling is going well and I am glad to get to continue that,” Olivia Hudok said. “I am very thankful for my family and friend’s support. I will continue to stand strong.”

Public health officials said allowing her to attend classes without the immunizations could put other children at risk.

West Virginia has some of the nation’s strictest limits on exempting children from vaccines required before they can attend school, and some parents have been lobbying the Legislature to change that.

Public health officials, however, warn that the state already suffers low immunization rates against diseases such as polio, whooping cough and measles.  

All states, including West Virginia, allow school-bound children to skip immunizations for medical reasons. But while 48 states also permit exemptions on religious grounds, West Virginia and Mississippi do not.

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