Can schools exclude unvaccinated students during the pandemic — even if it’s against religious beliefs?

Texas

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — State Representative James White is asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on part of the Texas Administration Code.

In a letter, Rep. White asked for clarification of a section of TAC 97.62, which reads:

A child or student, who has not received the required immunizations for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs, may be excluded from school in times of emergency or epidemic declared by the commissioner of the department.

TAC RULE §97.62

“What we’re looking at here is a parent’s exercising their conscious and religious beliefs, or even maybe some consultation from their medical license medical provider,” White said.

In normal circumstances, the state allows parents to apply for an affidavit for exclusion for reasons of conscience, including a religious belief. But the administrative code in question says students who have those immunization waivers would not be allowed in school during an emergency or epidemic.

White is asking Paxton if that means school districts would be able to exclude students with a waiver on file for any vaccine. More specifically, he said he’s concerned that school districts may attempt to exclude students on the basis of a waiver amid the COVID-19 pandemic, even though no vaccine for COVID-19 exists.

“It does suggest that children with exemptions could be excluded during a time of emergency, right? And we are under an emergency order. But I believe that’s with the assumption that there’s the vaccine on the shelf,” White explained.

Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Reidy say schools are going to have to consider immunizations carefully, whether they allow unvaccinated students to return to school or not.

“This year, more than any other year since I’ve been a pediatrician, being vaccinated carries more weight,” Reidy said.

Texas Democrats say that schools should have the right to do whatever they can to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“We stand strongly with the school’s ability to limit the spread of diseases and limit the spread of potential harm to our community,” Abhi Rahman with the Texas Democratic Party said.

Rahman went on to say everyone should be vaccinated in today’s day and age. He said while he understands people have the right to choose how to parent their children, but public safety is a bigger concern.

“By putting kids, children at risk, what you’re going to do is, you’re going to make other children not be able to get that same kind of education that you’re trying so hard to get your child to get that education,” Rahman said.

Paxton has not yet responded to White’s questions.

The AG’s website explains most opinions are issued within 180 days of the request, but the length of time depends on how much research is needed.

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