Judge puts Pickens teen's vaccination case on hold
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A complaint by a Pickens School senior kept out of the classroom for her refusal to get mandatory immunizations is on hold while a similar case plays out in another part of the state.
Randolph County Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong ruled Friday that Olivia Hudok's complaint will be resolved after a similar case is handled in Kanawha County Circuit Court, Superintendent of Schools James Phares said.
Additional cases are pending in Ohio and Mercer counties, as well.
Phares said Wilfong allowed the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to formally intervene in the case. She also granted a preliminary injunction requiring the county to provide homebound instruction.
Hudok's father, Phil, a retired teacher, has been working with his daughter on schoolwork sent home by her teachers. It wasn't immediately clear whether the district will have to provide a separate teacher.
Olivia Hudok is one of only three seniors at the Pickens school, West Virginia's smallest public school. It's a combined elementary and high school with just 37 students this year.
Public health officials said allowing her to attend classes without the state-mandated immunizations could put other children at risk.
The girl refused to get Tdap and MCV4 boosters for religious reasons and because of concerns about toxic ingredients. The immunizations are designed to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and meningitis.
She and her father want an exemption from the requirement, which covers all seventh- through 12th-graders.
The school district filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing the DHHR should have been a defendant, and lawsuits against state agencies must be filed in Kanawha County.
The state Attorney General's Office filed a motion to allow the DHHR to intervene, and another asking the judge to dismiss because it was filed in the wrong county.
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.
Phil Hudok has made headlines challenging state laws before. In 1999, he was fired from his teaching job in Randolph County for refusing to require his students to wear bar-coded identification badges. He was later reinstated after a circuit judge said the school board had made no attempt to accommodate his religious beliefs.
Then in 2008, the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles started a paper-based pilot program to keep driver's license photos out of a computer database to accommodate Hudok and others who believe digital storage is a "mark of the beast" that evokes biblical prophecy.
Hudok argued that bar codes and digital storage of photos are a way of numbering people, which they liken to a warning in the Bible's book of Revelation about a "mark of the beast" indicating the arrival of the Antichrist.