As the summer season winds down and California kids get ready to revisit their familiar daily routines of math tutors and lunch ladies, the newly enacted statewide vaccination laws applicable to all school-age children are still being hotly contested.
Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 277, which was put forth by Sen. Richard Pan and made California the third state in the nation that fully abolished personal belief and/or religious exemptions for vaccination requirements. Although the law took effect July 1, a considerable number of students missed the first few days of their fall classes because they showed up to school without their proof of vaccinations.
The new law has designated two checkpoint years, namely, kindergarten and seventh grade, in which children will be required to show proof of vaccination as a condition of attending class. This prerequisite also applies to children that have newly transferred into a California district, as well as those that attend day care. However, the Legislature did exempt special needs or disabled students from the stringent requirements, even though some California districts are still refusing to allow those students to remain in school as they believe the law’s language lacks clarity.
About 1,425 kindergartners in the Sacramento region filed personal belief exemptions this past school year, equivalent to roughly one in 22 kindergartners. Children whose families filed personal belief exemptions before January 1st of this year can file an affidavit that will allow the refusal of vaccinations until the next grade span, which range from birth to preschool; kindergarten to sixth grade; and grades 7 to 12.
Opponents to the new law attest that the law violates parental rights to choose medical treatment for their children, and further is depriving their kids of the constitutional right to an education. In an ongoing federal lawsuit, over a dozen plaintiffs have complained, stating that they have suffered injury under the law and that it violates the constitutional protections of due process.
Over the summer, the Sacramento City Unified School District has been reaching out to individual families whose children do not have current immunizations and worked with WellSpace Health to offer free immunization clinics. Through Sept. 8, the school district also will run several other free clinics at its District Enrollment Center so children can be ready to head back to school.
Personal belief exemptions became a hot political issue following a measles outbreak at Disneyland in 2014, infecting both Disneyland employees and visitors. The outbreak came hot on the heels of statewide whooping cough outbreaks in 2010 and 2014, spurring state legislators to take a tougher stance on immunization requirements and, consequently, sparking an avalanche of backlash from anti-vaccination groups.
In response to questions regarding the ongoing lawsuit, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson said vaccinating students “…is the law, and it’s the right thing to do for public health.”
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