Two Queens parents are suing the Department of Education over what they perceive as an infringement of their religious beliefs.
Nicole Phillips and Fabian Mendoza-Vaca have filed lawsuits claiming that their schools are depriving their children of a free education and discriminating against their religious beliefs.
Phillips’ two children were forced to miss several weeks of school in November at PS 188 in Oakland Gardens. Mendoza-Vaca’s two children, who go to PS 107 in Flushing, were also sent home for a period of time.
Mendoza-Vaca originally filed the lawsuit in Queens Supreme Court. Both cases are now in Brooklyn Federal Court.
The schools chancellor’s office has a regulation in place that allows school principals to remove unvaccinated children from school if another child has been diagnosed with a communicable disease such as measles or chickenpox. Those students are kept out of school until a few weeks after the final case has been diagnosed.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said that the length of exclusion for an unimmunized child is at least one incubation period after the last reported case along with the period of time during which an outbreak occurs.
Patricia Finn, the lawyer representing both parents in the case, said that the regulation violates both state laws regarding vaccination, as well as the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
“As it currently stands, the DOE’s policy is unfair to the children being taken out of school,” Finn said.
The DOE requires children to get vaccinated in order to register for and attend school, but the state allows parents to have their children exempt from immunization programs for religious and medical reasons.
But Certain Christian sects like the Church of Christ, Scientist object to the use of vaccines on religious grounds. According to the church’s website, Christian Scientists believe that healing comes through prayer.
The controversy surrounding mandatory vaccinations recently became a part of the national conversation whencongresswoman and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann spoke out against the use of the HPV vaccine, claiming that it causes mental defects.
Others have claimed that vaccinations cause autism in young children, but health authorities say those claims are unfounded.
The New York State Department of Health states that no real link between autism and vaccines has ever been found. The city Department of Health, state Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all stated that vaccines are safe for use.
Gary Krasner of the Coalition for Informed Choice, an organization that supports allowing parents to choose whether or not to give their children vaccines, said that the current DOE policy was “costly and unnecessary.”
“Other school systems outside of New York State have amended their versions of this regulation on practical grounds through means such as placing suceptible students in separate classrooms or allowing them to qualify for home tutors,” Krasner said.
Krasner also noted that New York State already has a home tutor program in place. “That could be expanded for this purpose,” he said.
City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), a former schoolteacher who currently sits on the Council’s Education Committee, disagreed with that assertion, saying that schools have the right to enforce vaccinations and related regulations.
“As someone who lived through the polio epidemic, I can say that the benefit to the health of our children is too great to ignore,” Dromm said.
The principals of PS 107 and PS 188 could not be reached for comment.