By Beth Christian Broschart
When Pickens High School senior Olivia Hudok left school Friday, she said she felt very sad at the thought she may not be able to return to school because of the state's new vaccination policy.
Oliva Hudok reads a prepared statement about being denied the opportunity of going to school
Hudok has attended that school since third grade, and she considers Pickens School students and staff part of her family.
"I received two memos last Friday; one from the Randolph-Elkins Health Department stating that I must be refused admission to Pickens School beginning Monday," Hudok said Monday morning. "The other was from Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Phares, threatening my removal and notice of trespass if I try to go to school."
Hudok said the situation is overwhelming to her.
"I am in my senior year of school," Hudok said. "I can't go back to school, and I can't believe it."
The deadline for all seventh- and 12th-grade students to show proof of a booster for Tdap and MCV4 vaccinations was Sept. 4, when students returned to school following the Labor Day weekend.
The Tdap immunization protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Meningococcal meningitis, a serious bacterial infection of the spinal cord, is prevented with the MCV4 vaccine.
Phares said students needed one of three things: a form verifying they had received the vaccination, a completed medical exemption form or a note from a physician's office stating an appointment date had been scheduled for the student to receive the Tdap and MCV4 vaccinations.
School principals called the guardians of students who had not met the immunization requirements, informing parents the students cannot return to school until proper documentation is received. A follow-up call was to be made by Lynn Proudfoot, Randolph County Schools attendance officer.
"Dr. Phares has been helpful by keeping our family informed of this developing situation," Hudok said. "He made sure that I would not be counted truant while being excluded from Pickens School. It makes me sad that Dr. Phares and the Randolph County Board of Education are caught in the middle of this."
Hudok said she believes the immunizations are wrong because of the presence of toxic ingredients. She also said her attorney has advised her that what the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources claims is law, actually is not law because it hasn't had legislative approval.
The Randolph-Elkins Health Department, which falls under the advisory of the WVDHHR, was contacted for comment Monday but didn't provide one by presstime.
Hudok said she does not understand how she can be excluded from public education solely by an administrative decision of nonelected officials.
"Chapter 16 of the West Virginia Constitution does provide for preventing enrollment (for students not immunized) but does not provide for expulsion for vaccination noncompliance," she said. "Hopefully the Legislature will pass an immunization religious freedom act in the upcoming legislative session so that people like me with religious convictions have a law protecting them. A religious freedom act would protect the responsibility of parents to make decisions in raising their children, as they are entrusted by God.
"I think the law will be changed," she said. "It is past time that this issue be dealt with."
West Virginia and Mississippi are the only two states that do not have immunization religious freedom.
Hudok said her friends and other people have said they are glad she is standing up for her rights and that they respect her for this.
"God strengthens me," she said. "I am not just doing this for myself, but for the future. God will show me the way and keep me strong."
Hudok's father, Phil, said his family is proud of Olivia.
"She was going to go to school, but we decided it would be best not to attempt to attend school Monday," Phil Hudok said. "It would only disrupt the education process at Pickens School."
Phil Hudok said his daughter has worked hard in school, is a 4.0 student and does not deserve to be prohibited from attending public school. He said his family has an attorney and they plan to serve legal papers in the next couple of days. The attorney, Delegate Patrick Lane, also represents Kanawha County students who are challenging the state's new vaccination policy.
"We hope to get a temporary injunction to allow Olivia to return to school until the matter is ajudicated," Phil Hudok said.