Mingo mother fights to get daughter in school without shots
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A Mingo County mother says her child has a right to a free education in a public elementary school — and a right not to be immunized against disease.
Now, parties on both sides of a federal court case are debating medical, religious and philosophical exemptions to immunization against the effects on the health of all schoolchildren.
Jennifer Workman, the mother of a 6-year-old girl, sued last month in U.S. District Court in Charleston so her daughter could attend Lenore Pre-K to 8 School in Mingo County.
The girl has not been immunized, and Workman claimed a medical exemption.
West Virginia and Mississippi are two states that allow only a medical exemption to immunization. Unlike most states, West Virginia does not allow religious or philosophical exemptions.
In the fall of 2007, the girl attended school for one month at Lenore. In late September, her mother received a letter saying the girl would have to leave school until the Mingo County Health Department ruled on her case.
On Oct. 3, 2007, Dr. Catherine Slemp, acting state Health Officer for the Department of Health and Human Resources, recommended against the girl’s medical exemption.
The girl remained out of school until last month, when Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin ruled that she should temporarily be allowed to attend school.
Later, both parties agreed to let the girl finish out the school year, which ends June 5. The trial begins in July.
In her lawsuit, Workman named the Mingo County school system, Mingo schools Superintendent Dwight Dials and DHHR as defendants.
“She believes as a Christian it’s her job to raise her child as best she can,” said Workman’s lawyer, Patricia Finn of N.Y. “She’s a brave mom for doing this.”
In September 2007, Dr. John McCallum recommended that the 6-year-old not be immunized, according to court filings. His recommendation came after he considered the medical history and serious health problems suffered by the 6-year-old’s elder sister, who is 13.
Still, the plaintiffs admit that the 6-year-old is a healthy child with no disabilities or illnesses and it would be against Workman’s faith — and as a member of the Bapticostal Church, Victory Christian — to allow any harm to come to her daughter, according to court filings.
Also, it would violate her religious beliefs to do anything against the specific direction of McCallum, according to the filing.
“We believe that the immunization program is proper and that there is no risk or danger to the child undergoing immunization,” said Charles R. Bailey, a Charleston attorney who represents DHHR.
Workman’s case is based on the physician’s belief that vaccinations are contrary to her child’s health, Finn said.
Another question, and one that interests Finn, is whether Workman can “follow her Christian beliefs or succumb to the will of the school system,” Finn said.
Religious or philosophical exemption to vaccination is not a topic Finn expects Goodwin will rule on in Workman’s case, but it is a legal issue Finn would like to pursue in future West Virginia court cases.
Brenda Isaac, the lead school nurse for Kanawha County Schools, said West Virginia only allows a medical exemption for good reason.
“This is very progressive and West Virginia is on the right side of this issue,” she said.
For instance, it’s easier for a newborn to get whooping cough if they are in contact with people who are not immunized, Isaac said.
When an outbreak of measles pops up in an out-of-state school, it usually starts with kids who weren’t immunized, she said.
“I’ve talked to school nurses in other states and it is just a nightmare,” she said.
(And as we all know, Measles is nota deadly killer and easily recovered from unlike many Vaccine Reactions like, brain damage and Autism. Keeping this Mom in my prayers! What a warrior for her children!!!~Ant)