A new law requiring all students in California to be vaccinated will be the subject of a legal challenge Friday afternoon in San Diego. It is a time sensitive hearing, as students head back to school over the next few weeks.
Senate Bill 277 went into effect July 1, repealing the state's personal belief exemption, which had allowed students to opt out of getting vaccinated.
Now, only children who have been immunized for diseases such as measles and whooping cough can be admitted to public schools, unless they have underlying medical conditions.
“It’s so punitive to take away the classroom education of a child. So it's just wrong,” said Rebecca Estepp. She blames what she calls a vaccine injury for her son's autism.
Estepp represents a group called Education4All, which is asking a federal judge to delay the new law's enforcement until all legal challenges are resolved.
“All we’re asking for is the court to go back to the law previously in effect,” said Kim Mack Rosenberg, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.
Mack Rosenberg says the new law is affecting the fundamental right under the Constitution to get a classroom based education with peers.
“What the state is proposing is very radical. They are proposing barring thousands of children from classrooms permanently,” she said.
In its response, the State wrote: “A state's exercise of its police powers in protecting the public from communicable diseases is rationally based.”
Meanwhile, proponents of vaccines welcome the more restrictive law.
“I would say parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, they are choosing to be home schooled,” said parent Shawn Vandriver.
But vaccine opponents say that is a punitive choice because many parents cannot afford to home school their children and that the law will impact 33,000 children who are not fully vaccinated.
“This is a very small percentage, but to each child, their inability to access the classroom-based education they are guaranteed is a tremendous and lifelong burden,” said Mack Rosenberg.
In a statement, the California Department of Education wrote: “The department can't comment on ongoing litigation, but Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson strongly supports vaccination. It's the law in California, and it's the right thing to do for public health. Early reports indicate school districts are doing a great job of reminding parents that they need to submit vaccination records for students entering kindergarten and 7th grade."