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Without up-to-date vaccines, judge rules teens can't attend Orchard Park schools

Nick Lippa

A state Supreme Court judge on Friday ruled two teenage students cannot attend Orchard Park schools without updated vaccines.

The 13- and 15-year-old daughters of Marina Williams had attended West Seneca schools for ten years before moving to Orchard Park last year.

Williams said she was provided the paperwork necessary to apply for religious exemption while attending West Seneca, but when she moved to Orchard park a year ago, she was unaware she had to re-apply.

“They did not tell me that it was the wrong paperwork,” she said. “They did not give me any paperwork to fill out. I had to look it up myself online, which is against protocol. And they did not tell me that anything was done wrong on any of it. So that is why there are discrepancies”

Williams said in addition to getting a religious exemption at West Seneca, the teens were also vaccinated at a younger age.

“At one point in time I did veer from my religion,” she said. “What happened from that point in time, and I did explain that to the Orchard Park School District as well as the superintendent, if that needs to come out in further hearings I would be glad to make that public knowledge.”

Williams and her daughters are members of the Temple of the Inner Flame Church and say they won’t be getting vaccinations any time soon. Williams said it is against their belief system for foreign substances like vaccines to enter their bodies.

State Supreme Court Justice Mark Grisanti noted several factors played in to his ruling. He said the school district gave Williams enough time to find additional education arrangements.

The family’s attorney, Frank Housh, said he and his clients respectfully disagree with the judge’s ruling.

“We felt we had made a strong case that New York’s compulsory education requirements mean that because the Orchard Park School District excluded these children from the school house, they still had an obligation to continue to educate them,” Housh said.

Housh calls this a case of first impression, meaning that they don’t believe a judge has ever ruled on this before and will seriously consider taking it up to the next level of appeal. Whether the family met any kind of religious exemption requirement is a separate matter.

“That is not the issue that the judge is going to rule. The commissioner of education is going to rule whether or not that was an appropriate denial,” he said.

Since the kids have been out of school since November 30, Williams feels they have fallen behind.

“Thousands of dollars for an education is something that I did not think that I should have to do,” Williams said. “So I’ve been looking in to alternate forms of education in the meantime and my children will obviously be educated.”

“They’re very, very intelligent children who are fully capable of catching up with everything. I was very much hoping that Orchard Park would educate my children as they should,” she said.

Williams plans to appeal to the Department of Education.

“The district takes student health and safety incredibly serious and we’re glad that the judge saw the school district’s position as being correct,” said attorney Andrew Freeman, who represented the district.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.