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Decision No. 17,694

Appeal of M.M., on behalf of his child G.M., from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Ithaca regarding immunization.

Decision No. 17,694

(July 9, 2019)

Giulia Silla Miller, Esq., attorney for petitioner

Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC, attorneys for respondent, Kate I. Reid, Esq., of counsel

ELIA, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Ithaca (“respondent”) that his child, G.M. (“the student”), is not entitled to a religious exemption from the immunization requirements of Public Health Law (“PHL”) §2164.  The appeal must be dismissed.

On or about September 5, 2018, petitioner submitted a “Request for Religious Exemption to Immunization Form” pursuant to PHL §2164 on behalf of the student.  By letter dated October 17, 2018, respondent denied petitioner’s request.  This appeal ensued.  A stay request was denied on November 26, 2018.

Petitioner argues that the denial of his request was arbitrary and capricious because it lacked an adequate basis.  He also asserts that respondent should have requested supporting documents.  Petitioner further argues that his request for a religious exemption from vaccination requirements should have been granted.

Respondent contends that petitioner failed to specify the precise nature and origin of his beliefs sufficient to support a religious exemption and that its determination was rational, not arbitrary or capricious, and in all respects proper.

At all times relevant to the events leading to this appeal, Public Health Law §2164 included provisions authorizing an exemption based on religious beliefs to required immunizations.  Specifically, Public Health Law §2164(9) provided:

[t]his section shall not apply to children whose parent, parents, or guardian hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary to the practices herein required, and no certificate [of immunization] shall be required as a prerequisite to such children being admitted or received into school or attending school.

However, on June 13, 2019, Chapter 35 of the Laws of 2019 was enacted, effective immediately, which repealed subdivision nine of §2164 of the Public Health Law, thus eliminating the religious exemption to immunization requirements to attend school.[1]

The appeal, therefore, must be dismissed as moot.  The Commissioner will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of Sutton, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,331; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 48 id. 532, Decision No. 15,940; Appeal of M.M., 48 id. 527, Decision No. 15,937).

With the enactment of Chapter 35 of the Laws of 2019, effective June 13, 2019, no student may be exempted from required immunizations based on religious beliefs, such as the exemption claimed by petitioner in this appeal.  The legislative intent of Chapter 35 is to protect the public health by ending non-medical exemptions from immunization (see Sponsor’s Mem. Bill Jacket, L 2019, ch 35).  As a result, the relief sought by petitioner – an order granting a religious exemption to the immunization requirements of Public Health Law §2164 - may no longer be obtained, rendering this matter academic.  Consequently, the appeal must be dismissed as moot.

In light of this disposition, I need not consider the parties’ remaining contentions.




[1] PHL §2164(7)(a), as also amended by Chapter 35 of the Laws of 2019, provides, “[n]o principal, teacher, owner or person in charge of a school shall permit any child to be admitted to such school, or to attend such school, in excess of fourteen days, without [a certificate of immunization] or some other acceptable evidence of the child’s immunization against poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, diphtheria, rubella, varicella, hepatitis B, pertussis, tetanus, and, where applicable, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), meningococcal disease, and pneumococcal disease; provided, however, such fourteen day period may be extended to not more than thirty days for an individual student by the appropriate principal, teacher, owner or other person in charge where such student is transferring from out-of-state or from another country and can show a good faith effort to get the necessary certification or other evidence of immunization or where the parent, guardian, or any other person in parental relationship to such child can demonstrate that a child has received at least the first dose in each immunization series required by this section and has age appropriate appointments scheduled to complete the immunization series according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Recommended Immunization Schedules for Persons Aged 0 through 18 Years.”