RICHMOND, Va. –- U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin committed an error when he denied a mother's right to send a child to school without vaccinations, a lawyer has told the Fourth Circuit appeals judges.
Pierpont, N.Y., lawyer Patricia Finn represents Jennifer Workman, who seeks to enroll her eight-year-old daughter in Lenore School in Mingo County.
Workman claims state officials improperly rejected a doctor's certificate advising against vaccination.
She asserts violations of constitutional amendments providing free exercise of religion, due process, and equal protection.
Goodwin granted a temporary order enrolling her child last year, but six months later he granted summary judgment to state officials on all claims.
He wrote, "Her beliefs do not exempt her from complying with West Virginia's mandatory immunization program."
He wrote that she presented no evidence of unequal treatment resulting from intentional or purposeful discrimination, finding all the evidence to the contrary.
West Virginia law requires immunization against diphtheria, polio, rubeola, rubella, tetanus, and whooping cough for children entering school.
West Virginia doesn't allow exemptions for religious beliefs, as does every other state but Mississippi.
Finn called West Virginia and Mississippi "oddball states" at oral argument Dec. 9 in Richmond, according to the Associated Press.
AP reported that Justice Steven Agee told Workman to argue the point with West Virginia legislators rather than with a court.
West Virginia does allow an exemption if a doctor certifies that immunization would be impossible or improper.
Workman obtained a certificate from child psychiatrist John MacCallum, who shared her concern that the child might develop conditions her older sister developed.
The sister suffers from a developmental disorder, sleep disorders and behavioral problems that manifested themselves around the time she began receiving vaccinations.
Mingo County health officer Manolo Tampoya approved the certificate, and the child entered a Head Start pre-kindergarten program at Lenore School in 2007.
A school nurse questioned the certificate, and county school superintendent Dwight Dials sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Resources.
He wrote, "We feel it would be remiss to not have our concerns clarified for future reference and decision making in similar matters."
Acting department head Cathy Slemp recommended denying the certificate, writing that she considered the safety of the child and other children.
Workman received a letter stating her daughter would no longer attend the program.
In 2008, Workman enrolled her in a Head Start program that accepted the certificate.
When her daughter got too old for the program, Lenore School wouldn't admit her.
Workman began home schooling her daughter, and she sued Mingo County Schools, Dials, and the Department of Health and Human Resources in April 2009.
She sought declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and money damages.
She stated that her Christian Bapticostal beliefs required her to honor God by protecting her child from harm and illness.
At a hearing, Goodwin challenged deputy attorney general Charlene Vaughan.
He said, "The statute says that a doctor's certificate is good enough, and you're telling me that a health officer at the state level can say no, it isn't?"
He said, "Can they just say none of them are?"
Vaughan said no. She said the health department said the certificate wasn't sufficient.
For Workman, Finn said, "It's almost crazy to assume that someone sitting in a state office knows better than the local pediatrician who has been treating the family."
Goodwin granted a temporary order, finding potential harm to the child outweighed any harm to the defendants.
"It speaks volumes to me that her mother who is providing that education acknowledges the superior value of a public school education for her daughter," she wrote.
Workman then added state schools superintendent Steven Paine as a defendant.
Next, Goodwin dismissed the Department of Health and Human Resources.
In August 2009, the West Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians and other groups pleaded for immunization as friends of the court.
Braun Hamstead of Martinsburg wrote that the exemption Workman sought would effectively make immunization voluntary rather than mandatory.
"Any parents who adhere to any religious faith whatsoever could truthfully state that their religion commands them not to harm their children," he wrote.
"Vaccines are among the greatest achievements of medical science," he wrote.
Defendants moved for summary judgment, and Goodwin granted it in November 2009.
"Although most states have chosen to provide a religious exemption from compulsory immunization, a state need not do so," he wrote.
Workman appealed to the Fifth Circuit, where a decision remains pending.