Unvaccinated student sues Kentucky health department for banning him from school

An unvaccinated high schooler claims the health department violated his freedom of religion. (Photo: Kirill Kukhmar\TASS via Getty Images)

Kentucky student claims in a lawsuit that the local health department violated his freedom of religion by banning him from school for three weeks because he’s unvaccinated. The school is battling a chickenpox outbreak and took extra precautions to get it under control.

The Northern Kentucky Health Department (NKHD) explained in a March 14 press release that 32 cases of chickenpox arose at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Assumption Academy, neighboring Catholic schools in Walton, Ky. 

“Although we have been working with the school to contain the illnesses since February,” said Dr. Lynne Saddler, district director of health at NKHD, “the Health Department has recently seen a concerning increase in the number of infected students at the school which has prompted us to take further control measures at the school and to make the public aware that chickenpox may be in the community.”

The health department said all students “without proof of vaccination or proof of immunity against chickenpox” wouldn’t be allowed at school until 21 days “after the onset of rash for the last ill student or staff member.” It also cancelled all school events and extracurricular activities involving other schools or the public for the same period of time, explaining that this included but was not limited to sporting events (both home and away games), fairs, festivals and music events.

Jerome Kunkel, 18, claimed that banning him from school violates his rights. His lawsuit argues that he hasn’t been vaccinated because of his religious belief that “the use of any vaccine that is derived from aborted fetal cells is immoral, illegal and sinful,” Newsweek reports

“I don’t believe in that vaccine at all and they are trying to push it on us,” Bill Kunkle, Jerome’s father, told NBC affiliate WLWT.

Current chickenpox vaccines do not use fetal cells. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call the vaccine “very safe” and “effective.”

“We are aware of the lawsuit filed by Jerome Kunkel, and want to state that the actions taken by the Health Department with respect to Assumption Academy were done consistent with this agency’s statutory charge to protect the public health,” the KYHD said in a March 15 statement

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