Sotomayor denies emergency relief for families seeking to send their children to online school without vaccines

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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied an emergency injunction to parents seeking to have their children enrolled in remote learning programs without meeting local vaccination requirements.

“Excluding medically fragile children from distance learning because they are missing a vaccine that might harm or kill them serves no valid state interest and will cause irreparable harm,” the group of anonymous parents argued. “Excluding them even from online access to school and remote special education services is cruel, inhuman and can serve only punitive purposes.”

“The state’s vaccination rules remain in force even though many children admitted at schools are learning remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” attorneys for the state of New York argued in their response. “Because remote-learning children remain part of the community, lower vaccination rates among them could contribute to contagious disease outbreaks.”

The parents told the court that their children are medically fragile and either suffer from diseases that compromise the immune system or have had poor reactions to other vaccines, and physician issued exception rules were being ignored and overruled by school administrators, who hold no medical qualifications.

New York overhauled its rules relating to vaccine exemptions in 2019, eliminating a religious exemption and restricting reasons for medical exemptions.

“School principals are no more qualified to decide between differences of medical opinion than they are to substantively review the treating physician in the first place. School principals have no understanding of the individual child’s needs nor do they possess the medical training to decide which medical opinion will best safeguard the child,” the parents said..

Sotomayor was not the first judge to deny the parents a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Brenda K. Sannes wrote in an Oct. 22 decision that “the public health concerns in maintaining high immunization rates for vaccine-preventable diseases and in avoiding outbreaks of communicable diseases provide ample basis for the newly enacted regulations.”

Despite Sotomayor’s denial of an emergency injunction, the case may continue in the 2nd Circuit Appeals Court.

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