Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
As an avid fan of “The Dr. Oz Show,” I have been disappointed by his equivocal statements about vaccination. My first duty as a school principal is to keep students safe at my school, and complying with the immunization law is an important step. Therefore, I was greatly relieved when, in the last legislative session, the courageous folks in the General Assembly strengthened the current laws requiring vaccination. Accordingly, I was ready when a parent showed up claiming to have a religious objection to vaccination, seeking my agreement to permit her child to attend my school though the child has not received the required vaccinations.
I was polite but firm as I told her that I will not and cannot let her child enroll in my school without proof of immunization in accordance with statute. I admit to being slightly officious, and I even shared with her a copy of Public Act 15-174. But that didn’t go too well, because she read the new law back to me and pointed out that the law still protects her right to object to vaccination on religious grounds. I was taken aback, but I was surprised to see that the new law seems not to have the strong new language I had heard about. What gives?
Better Safe Than Sorry
Unfortunately for you, the parent is an excellent reader, and she correctly pointed out that the amendments made to the immunization statute in the last session will have a minimal impact on parent decisions whether to vaccinate their children as part of the enrollment process. Parents remain able to enroll their children in school notwithstanding their failure to vaccinate them as long as they present “a statement from the parents or guardian of such child that such immunization would be contrary to the religious beliefs of such child or the parents or guardian of such child.” The “big” change is simply that now such a statement must be acknowledged by “(A) a judge of a court of record or a family support magistrate, (B) a clerk or deputy clerk of a court having a seal, (C) a town clerk, (D) a notary public, (E) a justice of the peace, or (F) an attorney admitted to the bar of this state, or (G) notwithstanding any provision of chapter 6, a school nurse.”
Such acknowledgment is required before a student is enrolled, and it must be again submitted before a child will be permitted to enter the seventh grade. There is nothing in the amended statute requiring that a school nurse provide such acknowledgment, and understandably some school nurses will be unwilling to provide such an acknowledgment. However, the new law simply imposes one additional step on parents, and they should have little difficulty finding someone on the list above to acknowledge their statement of religious objection. Other than now having to have their statement of objection acknowledged, parents remain free to claim religious objection (either on behalf of the child or their own) and exempt their children from the immunization requirements. Next time you will want to read more carefully before confronting a parent over a change in the law.