Attorney Michael Sussman, representing parents from Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge, speaks outside White Plains federal courthouse March 12, 2019.
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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A federal judge in New York on Tuesday denied a request for a temporary injunction that would have allowed 44 unvaccinated children to go back to class, citing an “unprecedented measles outbreak.”
“The plaintiffs have not demonstrated that public interest weighs in favor of granting an injunction,” U.S. District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti said in federal court in White Plains.
After the ruling, many parents in the court room embraced.
“Preventing my child from being with his class, his teacher, his classroom, has had a significant social and psychological impact,” said a parent of a 4-year old preschooler who declined to give her name.
“He is confused, given his young age, about why he isn’t allowed on his campus,” she said, her voice wavering.
The judge’s ruling came during a court appearance by the lawyer for parents representing students at the Chestnut Ridge school in Rockland County who have filed a lawsuit against the county Health Department and its commissioner, challenging an order barring the unvaccinated children from school.
The parents and students names are not listed in the lawsuit, which only uses initials.
“We have had success, but this case is not over,” Rockland County Attorney Thomas Humbach said in a statement. “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.”
The lawsuit states that Commissioner Patricia Schnabel Ruppert’s order violates the families’ religious objections to vaccinations and is unnecessary because the cases have been largely confined to insular Hasidic Jewish communities.
The federal lawsuit filed by 24 plaintiffs states that throughout the measles outbreak that started last fall, no cases have been reported among any of the Chestnut Ridge school’s excluded children, their families or in the Fellowship Community that surrounds it.
No future court date was set by the judge, who told Michael Sussman, the parents’ lawyer, that he might have better success in state court.
“It’s a tough situation and I feel bad about it … but I don’t feel I have the authority to do this,” Briccetti said.
Sussman replied: “There is a degree of parochialism that exists with elected judges.”
Rockland is experiencing the longest outbreak in the state since measles was officially eliminated from the United States in 2000, with a total of 145 cases reported since last October. Three more suspected cases are under investigation.
The outbreak, which has mostly affected the Orthodox Jewish community in Spring Valley, Monsey and New Square, led Ruppert on Dec. 5 to impose an order that area schools with vaccination rates under 95 percent must keep unvaccinated children from attending.
Although court papers filed by Sussman state Green Meadow’s students are “97 percent immune from the disease by all accounts,” the county’s Law Department said the school’s vaccination rate was about 33 percent when the Dec. 5 order was imposed. It subsequently has risen to about 56 percent.
The exclusion, which includes Chestnut Ridge, ends when there are no new cases in that area for 21 days, but because of the continuing increase in the number of measles infections, the exclusion time can be increased to 42 days.
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