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Spokane Valley City Council may lobby Legislature on vaccination proposal

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 9, 2017

By Amy Edelen The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane Valley City Council may take its advocacy of parents who want to keep their unvaccinated children in school during disease outbreaks to the state Legislature.

Spokane Valley City Council may consider adding the parental rights provision, which would allow parents the right to choose if their unvaccinated child can attend school during a disease outbreak, to its 2018 legislative agenda.

At a meeting late last month, the council discussed if it should lobby state legislators on the issue in advance of the 2018 legislative session.

The parental rights ordinance has been a hot-button issue since introduced by Councilman Ed Pace at an Aug. 29 study session.

The council’s advocacy of the vaccination issue, however, may have hit a snag on Election Day. Three incumbents who have backed the effort, Pace, Councilman Mike Munch and Councilman Caleb Collier, lost their bids to retain their seats.

Pace has argued that the health district should not have the ability to bar unvaccinated children from attending schools during outbreaks. His proposal includes three additional items: parents have the right to make decisions regarding their child’s school curriculum, the right to decide if their child has access to health care education or services, such as reproductive health or birth control, and the right to restrict their child from sharing a “traditionally segregated facility,” such as a bathroom or locker room, with adults or transgender people.

The City Council has received an outpouring of input from citizens regarding the provision – which also drew attention from the Center for Justice and the ACLU. Both organizations sent letters to the City Council opposing the proposal, citing potential legal ramifications.

Under Washington rules and regulations, in the event of an outbreak, the health department can exclude unvaccinated children from attending school to prevent the outbreak from spreading further, said Dr. Bob Lutz, health officer at the Spokane Regional Health District.

Lutz said unvaccinated children benefit at some level when other children are immunized based on herd immunity.

“There’s been 2.3 million lives preserved because of vaccinations worldwide and their success is proven. It’s well-documented, but they can have side effects,” Lutz said.

Lutz said he encourages dialogue surrounding the provision. He’s spoke with state Reps. Matt Shea and Bob McClaslin six weeks ago on the issue, and the provision is part of the district’s conversation with colleagues in Olympia.

Over the years, the state has adopted various rules which encroach upon the decision-making rights of parents, according to city documents read by Spokane Valley City Attorney Cary Driskell at Tuesday’s study session.

Councilwoman Pam Haley asked Driskell his opinion on adding the parental rights provision to the legislative agenda.

“I think from a legal standpoint, you are entirely within your right to do that,” Driskell said. “There’s no legal prohibition from putting this on your legislative agenda.”

Spokane Valley resident Jaclyn Gallion said she is thankful the City Council is taking action to implement the parental rights provision. During the mumps outbreak in January, her son – who is unvaccinated – was prohibited from attending University High School for 19 days.

Gallion said students on the exclusion list missed class lectures, were denied time in the classroom to study for finals and weren’t allowed in the building or on school property.

Gallion said her son’s school records noted he was absent with a contagious illness, when in fact, he was healthy. She said it still hasn’t been resolved.

“It puts him at a disadvantage compared to the other students,” she said.

Spokane Valley resident Rev. Genevieve Heywood opposes the parental rights proposal.

“This ordinance has a lot more to it that is very dangerous toward our young people,” she said. “I’m very concerned about that.”

As it relates to vaccinations, allowing unvaccinated students in school during an outbreak is a public health concern that should be left up to the health district to decide, she said.

However, Heywood said there could be a compromise solution, such as a charter school that unvaccinated children can attend during an outbreak.

Heywood said she sympathizes with parents who were affected by the mumps outbreak and exclusions, but pursuing the provision will cost the city money.

“Why aren’t we spending money to make a quality of life for everyone where people want to move to the Valley and be part of a forward-looking community that has vision?”

The 2018 legislative agenda is scheduled to be up for discussion and possible action Tuesday at the City Council meeting.

This story was changed on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 to clarify that the Valley’s lobbying agenda, which include parental rights, will be considered at a meeting later this month. The earlier version incorrectly said Pace’s proposal on parental rights was planned to be considered by the council this month.

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