Sunday, August 12, 2007

nothing like starting the school year with controversy

Hunter's school is under controversy.

Family fights Catholic diocese over vaccine requirement
Officials say they're only trying to protect students in schools

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFSaturday, August 11, 2007
Lunch period is what 8-year-old Garrett Bowen misses the most about school.
"Cause when you had lunches, you got brownies," he said. "And they made really good poppy seed cake."

That and playing with his school yard friends.

But Garrett hasn't been to his school, Sacred Heart private Catholic school in La Grange, since administrators said he could no longer attend without a record of current vaccinations.

Saying they believe vaccines pose an unnecessary health risk, Garrett's parents have filed a complaint with the federal government, alleging discrimination by the Austin diocese.

They say a family history of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that some doctors say can be triggered by vaccines, should exempt Garrett from the diocese's vaccination requirement.

"Is it not just something a Catholic parent should be able to expect from a church? To support them in bringing their child up as a Catholic?" asked Garrett's mother, Mary Bowen. "We just want to do the best thing we can do as Catholic parents for our child."

Austin diocese officials say their immunization requirements are meant to protect the children in their schools. The standard for medical exemptions is strict, covering only children who have been diagnosed with a disease. There are no philosophical exemptions, despite some Catholics' moral objections to how several vaccines were developed.

However, parents of students in Texas' public schools who object to vaccines need only obtain a doctor's note or sign a waiver saying they object to vaccinations for "reasons of conscience." A state attorney general's ruling allows private schools that don't accept state tax funds to create their own vaccination policy.

Statewide, the number of parents who opt not to vaccinate for philosophical reasons is small; in the 2006-07 school year, 9,606 of about 4.85 million students in public and accredited private schools requested an exemption for reasons of conscience.

However, it is slowly growing, which has some medical experts concerned, including Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious disease medicine and has helped develop several vaccines.

A report by Offit published on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site said measles sent 10,000 children to the hospital and killed more than 100 when vaccination levels dropped in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"People say this is a free country and you can't tell them what to do," Offit said. "But is it an inalienable right for someone to catch a disease and give it to some else? I don't think so."

Family reasons
Mary Bowen envisioned a future for Garrett that in some ways mirrored her own upbringing."I prayed daily in (Catholic) school. It was a part of everything we did as a family. I wanted the same experiences for him," she said.
The Bowens, who live in Cedar Creek, about 8 miles west of Bastrop, decided to do research before getting Garrett inoculated when he was born. Mary Bowen came across articles that linked several vaccines with rheumatoid arthritis, which her husband, Ken, has.

Fear that Garrett could develop the juvenile form of the disease led the Bowens to put off vaccinating him again.
Garrett was about to enter second grade last summer when the principal at Sacred Heart told the Bowens they either had to vaccinate him or get a medical exemption.

The Bowens got a letter from a Bastrop physician citing Garrett's family history of rheumatoid arthritis. But under diocese policy, Garrett didn't qualify for an exemption because he had not been diagnosed with the disease.

Furthermore, most government health organizations have said there's insufficient evidence to link vaccines with the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in children.

A diocese spokesman said Bishop Gregory Aymond and other diocese officials have reviewed the school's policy and decided the decision will stand.

Moral questions
Some Catholics such as Sue Cyr, a mother of four in Dallas, have moral objections to vaccinations because several common vaccines, including the one for chickenpox, were developed using cells from fetuses aborted in the 1960s and '70s.

"I thought it was so sad that our church had caved in to the pressures of the mainstream health groups and the drug companies, when there is a real moral dilemma here," Cyr said. "You would think the church, of all places, would be supportive."

Church leaders have argued against research that involves the destruction of human embryos. However, the Vatican does not have a policy against vaccinations because the research used to develop the vaccines occurred so long ago.

Unlike Cyr, who was able to get the Dallas-area diocese to accept a medical exemption for her children, the Bowens are at an impasse and plan to continue homeschooling Garrett while pursuing remedies outside the church.
In the complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture — which runs the federal school-lunch program — the family's attorney argues that because the Austin diocese accepts federal money for the lunch program, it must comply with federal anti-discrimination laws and accept Garrett's medical reasons for not being immunized. Bowen says the agency has not indicated when it might rule.

She said the dispute has not made her question her faith or desire for Garrett to return to Catholic school. "I'm a Catholic, I'll always be a Catholic and Garrett will always be a Catholic," she said. "We're a part of the body of Christ. We can't go somewhere else."