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School denies vaccine medical exemption to child with autism, parents sue NYS's top doctor

Berkeley Brean
Created: September 20, 2019 06:58 PM

PENN YAN, N.Y. (WHEC) — A family in our area is desperate for help. 

Their son, who is severely autistic, is not allowed to go to school anymore. That's because his school district, BOCES 1, denied his medical exemption for vaccines. The family, who lives in Penn Yan, is now suing the school and the state commissioner of health. 

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In June after an outbreak of measles, mostly in suburban New York City, the state repealed the religious exemption for vaccines. But lawmakers told News10NBC they didn't change the medical exemption. 

The family of 11-year-old Thorn Schwartz wants the State Supreme Court to suspend the denial so Thorn can go back to school.

And they need this to happen by Monday.

"He is a cute, little active guy. Highly gifted," Carl Schwartz said describing his son Thorn. "And severely autistic."

Carl and Kerri Schwartz say Thorn started changing when he was three and they learned anything that goes into his body can have a terrible effect, like when they used anesthesia to get his teeth cleaned at the dentist. 

"It was 12 weeks before he was back at equilibrium again," his mother Kerri said. 

That's why they say they need the medical exemption for vaccines. Thorn is a student at Creekside school at BOCES 1 in Fairport. 

Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "So every year he was at Creekside he has had a medical exemption to be there, correct?"
Carl Schwartz, Thorn's father: "Correct."
Brean: "And this year the exemption was denied."
Carl Schwartz: "That's correct."
Brean: "Why did that happen?"
Carl Schwartz: "We don't know. We're not medical doctors so even if we were given a medical reason we probably still wouldn't know."

On Sept. 9, the Schwartzes got a letter from their school principal. It says the BOCES doctor reviewed Thorn's exemption and ruled it is "not consistent" with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. 

The Schwartzes received another document from BOCES 1 that gave them until Wednesday, Sept. 18 to get Thorn his shots. 

So on Thursday, Sept. 19, he was not allowed back.

Thorn's father, an attorney, filed a lawsuit on Thursday suing the principal of Creekside school at BOCES 1, the BOCES 1 nurse and doctor, and Dr. Howard Zucker, the commissioner of state health. 

In an email, BOCES 1 told me: "We, like all school districts, are following the law and guidance provided by the New York State Department of Health."

The Department of Health told News10NBC: "Immunizations give children the best protection from serious childhood diseases and the science is crystal clear that vaccines are safe and effective."

Carl Schwartz: "But this is a life or death situation for this family. This little guy needs to be in school now."
Brean: "You could get him back into school if you got him vaccinated. Couldn't you just get him vaccinated?"
Carl Schwartz: "Certainly we could get him vaccinated and we may never see our son Thorn as we know him today again if we did so."

The Schwartzes have three older daughters. They say they're all vaccinated. 

I contacted and sent copies of the letters and lawsuit to Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb of Canandaigua and former Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy. I asked them to use their position to alert the governor's office. When we contacted state health, they talked about the value and safety of vaccines. The department did not explain the new policy that got a child's medical exemption denied. 


Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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