San Dieguito High School District Board supports removing personal belief exemption for student vaccinations

The San Dieguito Union High School District board approved a resolution in support of Senate Bill 277, repealing the personal belief exemption for vaccinations, on April 2. The board’s discussion and vote on the bill was nearly drowned out by an angry crowd of about 40 parents who opposed the bill, many holding signs and wearing buttons against vaccinations.

After the 4-1 vote with trustee Amy Herman voting against it, there was an immediate outburst: “That’s a big mistake!”

The shouts continued as a disappointed crowd spilled out of the meeting room. “It’s a civil rights issue!” “Here come the lawsuits!” “We’re all leaving the state!” “You can’t say stick our kid or they can’t go to school!”

“We understand the passion on this subject,” said trustee Joyce Dallessandro. “As a school board, we’re elected to represent, speak out for and advocate for the best interest of all students. The decisions we make need to best serve all or at the very least the majority of district students. It’s imperative that students are able to attend schools free of any overall safety and health concerns, so I am in support of this resolution.”

Public health officials believe an immunization rate of 95 percent is critical to minimizing the potential risk of a disease outbreak. California is one of only 17 states that allows parents to enroll their children in school unvaccinated through a personal belief exemption.

SB277 would prohibit children from attending any public elementary school or child care center unless they have been fully immunized against a list of 10 various diseases, including measles, mumps, and pertussis, and any other disease determined appropriate in the future. The only exemption allowed would be for medical reasons; Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states to allow no opt-outs except for medical reasons.

“For me, I keep coming back to the overarching concern that there are increasing numbers of unvaccinated students in this area,” said district Board President Beth Hergesheimer, noting some numbers are above what is considered safe for public health.

All of the district’s feeder school districts exceed the threshold established by the state of 2.5 percent for unvaccinated children. The highest opt-out rates are at Olivenhain Pioneer at 16 percent, Encinitas Union with 11.6 percent, and Rancho Santa Fe School District with about 8 percent.

The Del Mar Union School District has about a 3.8 percent opt-out rate and Solana Beach district is at 3.3 percent.

Six parents spoke against the bill during public comment, arguing in favor of informed consent.

Kelly Haas said that she doesn’t want the “sensationalized account” of the Disneyland measles outbreak to drive this bill. Haas said there have been zero deaths due to measles reported since 2003, while 108 deaths can be attributed to the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

Amy Mitten-Smith said her son had extreme reactions to vaccinations and said they can cause autism and other neurological disorders, adding that the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has paid out $2.8 billion to those who suffered adverse effects.

“Why are children asked to carry an unsafe burden?” asked parent Ivana Nedic. “I’m calling for safe, ethical and individual vaccine practices, I’m calling for the choice to say yes, I’m calling for the choice to say no, I’m calling for the choice of freedom.”

David Jackson said he’s raised his family on the values of faith and freedom, and the freedom of religion was what the country was built upon. He said there has to be a better solution than SB 277.

“I’m not so much anti-vaccine, but pro-safety and the freedom of choice,” said parent Bo Molocznik. “This bill rips that away from us.”

Trustee John Salazar, who requested that the bill come before the board, said he had heard what the parents had to say regarding the issues of religious and personal freedoms, but noted that his job as an elected official is to look out for the greater good of society.

Salazar remarked on how lucky people are to have vaccines, speaking about how before Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, the disease was a huge fear among families in the 1950s and thousands of children were crippled by polio.

As early as five years ago, he said, there was an outbreak in India and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stepped in to provide vaccinations. He was then shouted down by parents about Bill Gates’ methods to provide health care and vaccinations to underdeveloped countries.

“I absolutely feel that we, as a school board, should support this bill,” Salazar said. “We’re elected to look out for the welfare of children and teachers in this district.”

He reminded those expressing their frustration at the board’s action that the trustees are elected, and in the next election they could let their votes speak.

One anti-SB 277 parent approached the board at the conclusion the meeting and apologized for the heated reactions.

SB 277 is now moving through the Senate health and fiscal committees and must pass the Senate floor by June 5. If the bill goes to the Assembly, it must pass the floor by Sept. 11.

Brian Stenzler, president of the California Chiropractic Association, said that while the vote may be symbolic, it carries a lot of weight.