A federal judge in White Plains, New York, has ruled against the parents who sued the Rockland County Health Department for not allowing their unvaccinated children to attend school. The county has been hit by one of the worst measles outbreaks in nearly two decades.
"The plaintiffs have not demonstrated that public interest weighs in favor of granting an injunction," U.S. District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti said, according to the Journal News.
Two dozen parents, representing 44 children in Chestnut Ridge, filed a federal lawsuit against the Health Department and its commissioner after their unvaccinated children were barred from attending school during the measles outbreak.
What's the story?
The lawsuit claims that the county's exclusion is in violation of their families' religious objections to vaccinations and that it should not apply to schools where there are no measles cases, including Green Meadow Waldorf School.
"I do not believe state law gives the authority to the public health commissioner of the county or the state to exclude children from school where there is no reported case of measles in the specific school," the plaintiff's lawyer, Michael Sussman, said, WLNY-TV reported.
The judge disagreed, adding that the order was "neither arbitrary nor outrageous."
"We have to stand strong for the protection of the babies and the infirm who would be affected by this disease," Rockland County attorney Thomas Humbach said.
The measles outbreak has mostly affected the Orthodox Jewish communities in Spring Valley, Monsey, and New Square.
Since October, there have been 146 confirmed cases of measles in Rockland County, according to the Health Department. There are several more suspected cases under investigation.
Green Meadow's students are "97 percent immune from the disease by all accounts," according to court papers filed by Sussman.
The county's lawyers said that the school's vaccination rate was about 33 percent in December but that it has risen to about 56 percent since the order was imposed.
What's the background?
On Dec. 5, Rockland Health Department Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert issued an order barring unvaccinated students from attending school across two ZIP codes.
The exclusion remains in effect until there are no new measles cases for 21 days. However, because of the increased number of cases, the exclusion may be extended to 42 days, according to reports.
What did some parents say?
One mother, who would not share her name, told reporters that her son had missed 90 days of classes at Green Meadow Waldorf School since the exclusion was imposed.
"Preventing my child from being with his class, his teacher, his classroom, has had a significant social and psychological impact," the mother said.
What else did the county say?
Humbach said in a statement that the order has helped prevent further spread of the disease.
"We have had success, but this case is not over," Humbach said, according to the Journal News. "While no one enjoys the fact that these kids are out of school, these orders have worked; they have helped prevent the measles outbreak from spreading to this school population."
Some of the affected families have reportedly hired tutors for their children, while others have arranged for their kids to watch livestreams of their classrooms.
And a few have vaccinated their children so they could return to the classroom.