State Watch

Kentucky judge sides with health department, rules unvaccinated teen can't play school basketball

A Kentucky judge has sided with a state health agency against an unvaccinated teenager who sued in an effort to return to his school's basketball team.

Boone County Circuit Judge James R. Schrand upheld the agency's temporary ban on unvaccinated students attending school or participating in extracurricular activities, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit from the family of Jerome Kunkel, who claimed the Northern Kentucky Health Department was discriminating against their Christian beliefs by barring the student from school and basketball because he has not received a chickenpox vaccine.

Amid a chickenpox outbreak that affected over 30 students last month, the health department sent a letter to families at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton, Ky. saying that unvaccinated students may not attend school or participate in school activities, such as sports.

Like schools in many other states, Assumption Academy normally allows vaccine exemptions for religious beliefs, but the judge's Tuesday ruling upholds the health department's right to impose bans in the event of an outbreak.

Kunkel, a senior and varsity basketball player, told the Enquirer through his lawyer that he was "devastated" by the ruling.

His attorney, Christopher Wiest, argued in court that a ban on unvaccinated students would not be effective in stopping the spread of chickenpox, because most of the students attend mass together.

Wiest told the paper that over two dozen other unvaccinated students are out of school and have joined Kunkel's legal push.

The health department lauded the ruling, saying it "underscores the critical need for Public Health Departments to preserve the safety of the entire community, and in particular the safety of those members of our community who are most susceptible to the dire consequences when a serious, infectious disease such as varicella, is left unabated and uncontrolled."