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West Virginia judge orders home instruction of unvaccinated student

Published: Monday, Nov. 12 2012 3:24 p.m. MST

A West Virginia judge has ordered schools in Randolph County in West Virginia to continue providing home instruction for a unvaccinated student seeking a religious exemption, the AP reports.

West Virginia is one of only two states that do not allow exemptions for religious reasons. The other is Mississippi.

The controversy occurs as several states move to tighten exemptions. New Mexico recently removed its philosophical objection, leaving the religious and medical exemptions in place.

"More than ten years after a study in The Lancet falsely linked autism to the measles, mumps and rubella triple vaccine, evidence of reduced immunization rates and rising incidence of disease are spurring politicians to try to make up lost ground," Scientific American reported in October.

Washington tightened its exemption process, making it more difficult.

"One of the instigators for our laws was the thought that many parents were exempting for convenience," Michele Roberts, communications manager for the Washington Department of Public Health, told Scientific American. "It was easier to sign the exemption form than to track down records or to get your kid to an appointment."

The West Virginia case brought by Olivia Hudok, a high school senior, and her father Phil is one of a handful of such cases being litigated in West Virginia, which has one of the toughest immunization rules, in part, officials say, because the state suffers from low immunization rates.

In October, a similar case was dismissed by a judge in Kanawha County, who wrote, "The rule is entitled to substantial deference as it represents the best judgment of a national group with undoubted expertise and experience whose judgments are vetted before the public," the Charleston Gazette reported.

Patrick Lane, an attorney representing the parents, argued that state laws guarantee a "fundamental right to education." He noted that children expelled for bringing a gun to school must be given alternative schooling.

"I would be shocked if the Supreme Court would say a kid who brings a gun to school has more of a fundamental right to education than a child who does not have a hepatitis shot," Lane told the Charleston Gazette.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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