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JPS Eyes All Requests For Immunization Exemptions

Following reports of a family being denied enrollment to an Orchard Park school district because of immunization records, The Post-Journal asked Jamestown Public Schools about similar district policies.

A state Supreme Court justice ruled against the family of two teenage girls who challenged the Orchard Park Central School District denial of a religious exemption regarding vaccinations. The girls, ages 13 and 15, previously attended a West Seneca school where their religious exemptions were accepted to void a vaccine requirement.

The Supreme Court ruled Orchard Park does not have to admit the potential students without receiving necessary vaccines.

In Jamestown, the nine school buildings receive various religious and medical exemption requests regarding immunization and vaccines. Jill Muntz, JPS coordinator of nursing, said there are currently students who were approved for religious exemptions within the district.

“It’s probably under 20 (students),” she said.

Students with medical conditions vary in reasoning for requesting an exemption. For religious related requests, the district conducts a review of the particular student’s request.

“All the parents that have a religious exemption know that if there is a question of an outbreak of something a student is not immune to then it’s unsafe for them to stay in school,” Muntz said. “So, we would have to exclude them and the question would be, ‘should we then offer home schooling?’ I think the answer is ‘yeah.'”

Muntz and district officials review each request to determine its validity and consistency. She described it as a “complex process.” The district determines if the family is simply avoiding vaccinations or has a consistent history of avoiding medicine use due to their religious beliefs. With district officials and school principals, a decision is made whether to accept a religious exemption.

“One of the questions I will ask is ‘if you don’t believe in vaccinations do you also not believe in other medical treatments?'” she said. “Because you can’t pick and choose. It doesn’t look legitimate if you pick and choose what medical treatment.”

Muntz said the request must not show any inconsistencies with regards to avoiding medical treatments.

Muntz said while no exemption requests have been denied since she began in the district, she has however seen families change their minds after a discussion about vaccinations.

Often, Muntz said, parents will see the district’s side of the discussion and reverse their decision.

One aspect of the Orchard Park situation Muntz critiqued was the duration the family was given to find alternatives to schooling. Muntz said she would have recommended, in the same situation, to leave the students enrolled until the Supreme Court or the state Education Department made an official decision.

“I would’ve kept the child in school in process until the appeal was decided,” she said.

Muntz felt having the students miss two months of school in Orchard Park was premature.

The required vaccinations vary in grade levels and reoccur throughout a student’s educational career. Muntz said a lack of measles immunization nationally have produced outbreaks in different pockets around the county, showcasing the importance of immunization.

However, Muntz said if a family proves their religious beliefs are legitimate, then the exemptions should be granted. But if there are inconsistencies, she said a denial would be recommended if the necessary vaccinations have not been received.

“If there are holes in it, it’s hard to then say it’s a true religious belief,” Muntz said.

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