Michelle Schneider: Here’s why Mark Davis is wrong about schools and vaccination

Recently, Mark Davis and I had a lively discussion about vaccination requirements for public school enrollment. He supposedly supports the parental right to decide whether and how children are vaccinated, but contradicts himself by saying that school districts can deny entry for those not vaccinated on schedule.

He is able to rationalize the belief that neither the state nor federal government can institute such restrictions, but individual districts (whose rules are set by elected officials, not unlike members of the Legislature) can. Davis subsequently doubled down on his opinion, insisting it allows for “as much liberty as possible.”

He implied that certain inalienable rights are mere make-believe. He is woefully misled. In response, I’d like to codify some fundamental concepts that apply directly to this debate. Hopefully I am able to demystify them and inspire a more balanced perspective.

Informed consent. While not outlined in our U.S. or state constitutions, informed consent is a basic human right applying to medical treatments, including vaccinations. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists detailed why it is vital, describing it as an “ethical requirement” involving an “informed and voluntary decision about accepting or declining medical care.” When a school requires vaccinations, they involve themselves in medical decisions. ACOG concludes that “consenting freely is incompatible with being coerced or unwillingly pressured by forces beyond oneself.” A government entity is such a force, particularly when dangling the carrot of a public education on the proverbial stick. Davis took issue with my use of the word “force” when referring to coercion. But, in legal matters such as contracts, coercion equals force, and health care is a contract between patient and provider into which Davis proposes schools insert themselves.

Liberty. Liberty is defined as “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.” Vaccination decisions are part of one’s way of life, and a school is undoubtedly an authority. Restricting access to a public education is oppressive. How a school denying enrollment based upon whether parents have consented to one or more vaccinations is synonymous with liberty confounds me.

Segregation. Requiring that children be homeschooled if not vaccinated is government-sanctioned segregation, entailing separate services for those with particular religious or philosophical beliefs. When I reminded Davis that the Supreme Court had ruled about such impositions in Brown vs. Board of Education, he accused me of playing the race card. But, the most striking and oft-quoted statement from within the court’s decision is “separate education facilities are inherently unequal.” In that instance, they were addressing racial segregation, but the ruling has since been applied to various types of discrimination, including religious, and to reject this truth is ignorant. Furthermore, the Texas Constitution ensures equal access to public services (Article 1, Sections 3 and 3a), and to deny a child a free public education based upon vaccination status violates the due process (parents have a property interest in the education they fund with their taxes) and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, any school violating these protections must do so at a cost.

Reality. A single mother of two school-aged children works to provide necessities like rent and food. Suddenly, the school implements a no-vaccine-refusal policy and her children are threatened with expulsion. She cannot afford private school and cannot homeschool because of her job. In order to continue to provide for her children, she is forced (yes, forced) to vaccinate them in violation of her deeply held beliefs. So, not only would mandates impede equal access to a free public education, their effects would be disproportionate across the population; low-income families would be unable to homeschool, while upper- middle-class families would be less coerced. The choice is itself unequal.

To paraphrase Davis, if a school refuses children who are not vaccinated, they are not exempt from the rules, nor are they exempt from reality.

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