Two upstate New York teenagers who didn't attend school for more than two months because they hadn't been vaccinated have now been expelled, their mother revealed on Thursday.
The sisters, 13 and 15, from Buffalo, previously attended schools in West Seneca for several years and say their refusal to be vaccinated on grounds of their religious beliefs never caused issue.
But now, having moved to the the Orchard Park School District (OPSD) only last year, their mother Marina Williams says the girls' right to religious exemption has been denied and they haven't attended school for months as a result.
The girls have now reportedly been expelled indefinitely by the district, Williams said. The family now plan to take the OPSD to court.
'They simply told these kids you’re out of the district – we’re giving you no services and if you show up on school grounds, we are going to arrest you for trespass – that’s what they said,' claims Frank Housh, the family's attorney.
'This isn't a vaccination lawsuit and my client is not an anti-vaxxer. The issue here is she is seeking to avail herself of a religious exception.'
Housh added the family has opted again immunizations for 'generations'.
The two teenagers had been suspended off the school's books in the fall after repeatedly refusing to be vaccinated.
The OPSD rejected William's request of religious exemption, and told the children not to return until they'd had the injections.
'It's against our belief system for foreign substances such as vaccines to enter our bodies, said Williams.
Court papers show the Williams family belong to an evangelical congregation known as the 'Temple of the Inner Flames Church'.
The family sent the school a letter from Reverend of the church - and self-proclaimed 'world renown psychic' - Carol Ann Liaros to reaffirm their stance.
'Based on our Christian biblical instructions from God, our beliefs include not taking any harmful or foreign substances into our bodies, which includes: excessive alcohol, recreational drugs, foreign substances (vaccines.)'
But in rebuttal, the school district released a statement insisting protecting the health of its students outweighs an individual's right to religious immunity.
That decision, according to New York state law, is justified, as current legislation leaves the decision of whether a parent's religious beliefs are a valid reason for exemption to the board.
'A school district has no duty more important than protecting the health, safety, and welfare of its students and staff,' the OPSD, overseen by superintendent Matthew McGarrity, said in a statement.
'Ensuring that the immunization requirements under state law have been met is critical to carrying out this duty. The New York State Commissioner of Education has denied a request to allow un-immunized students living in the District to attend school while they seek an exemption to the State Public Health Law requirements.
Housh however claims the school district are in breach of the law and will be taking their case to the state Supreme Court, claiming religious discrimination.
The attorney says that after the family's second request for religious exemption was rejected, the school refused to allow them to attend during their appeal.
He claims the district also refused to give them school work, home work or provide a tutor, leaving the girls to fall behind.
'They didn't follow the law and they've continued to not follow the case. That's why we're going to court,' Housh said.
'It's against the law and quite simply cruel to set these children's education lives back so far,' he added.
OPSD said they couldn't comment any further on the case, because of the pending court trial.
Erie County's Health Commissioner, Dr. Gale Burstein, told WKBK that he urges all children to get vaccinated.
'Vaccines are safe, vaccines are effective, so let your doctor love your children like you love your children,' Burnstein said.
The Williams' case is set to be heard in the state supreme court on Friday.
Williams says she is awaiting blood result to determine whether her daughter's have developed a natural immunity to the diseases the vaccinations are used to prevent.