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New York Judge: Schools Have the Right to Suspend Unvaccinated Kids

New York judge rules that schools can suspend children who are not vaccinated
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

With the recent measles outbreak making headlines, the vaccination debate has definitely been heating up across the U.S. these last few months. And now, in New York, it's getting even hotter: A Brooklyn judge has just ruled that any school has the right to suspend children who are not vaccinated.

According to the New York Times, Judge William Kuntz ruled against three families who claimed their rights were violated when their childrens' school pulled them out of class. Administrators at the school in question said they removed the kids only after learning that none of them had been vaccinated and feared disease would spread among the school.

Two of the three families involved in the suit said from the beginning that their religious beliefs prevented them from vaccinating, while the third family first cited a medical exemption and later switched to religious reasons (which obviously shed a bit of doubt on their story).

During his ruling, Kuntz said that "religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations” and referenced a 1905 case in which the government declared the right to protect public health — even if it meant overruling an individual's rights. In that case, a man was fined for refusing a smallpox vaccine.

But as some might argue, those were different times. “There’s no way that court anticipated [in 1905] that children would be subjected to the vaccines they must get today," said Patricia Finn, who represented one of the three families.

This New York case highlights a very tricky situation that schools across the nation are left to navigate: How do you keep your kids safe against outbreaks, but be fair to the personal beliefs of their families? Making matters even more tangled is the fact that medical exemptions exist (and are legal) in the first place.

But as long as they are, schools are left to make the difficult decision of how to deal with unvaccinated kids on a case-by-case basis.

Ohio also recently made headlines for dealing with a similar issue — parents of students were warned after the measles outbreak that unvaxxed kids could be pulled from school for up to 25 days.

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