LITTLE VALLEY — Amish children who have not been vaccinated will not be allowed to ride on school buses in New York state when school starts next month.
Cattaraugus County Public Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins reported to members of the County Legislature’s Human Services Committee Wednesday.
The state Department of Health issued regulations Monday that spell out for local school officials how to respond to the law that abolished the religious exemption for student immunizations.
“They will not be allowed to ride on school buses,” Watkins told committee members regarding unvaccinated Amish students who sometimes ride buses to their schools.
Legislator Howard VanRensselaer, R-Randolph, said there were concerns about Amish children walking along Route 241 north of Randolph where there are no shoulders.
The new state law says no religious exemptions to vaccinations will be allowed in public, parochial or private schools.
That means the 20 Amish schools in the county attended by nearly 500 students, which all have a 100% religious exemption rate, will be in violation, Watkins admitted.
The state will survey all public, parochial and private schools.
“There will be a sizeable civil penalty” for violations of the immunization law, Watkins predicted. “There will be no school closings,” he emphasized.
Watkins said he has asked to meet next week with the bishops, or leaders of the county’s Amish community.
“My goal is to work with the Amish community to set up a vaccination clinic so the children can get vaccinated and set up future appointments so they can go to school,” Watkins said.
The county’s Old Order Amish have shunned vaccinations on religious grounds in past outbreaks of disease.
The state law removing the religious exemption for immunizations was in answer to a nationwide measles outbreak in which New York, with its many religious communities, was an epicenter.
Watkins said the Amish students aren’t the only ones facing some sanctions over their religious objection to immunizations.
Most school districts have some students who previously had religious exemptions. School districts will face the same civil penalties as the Amish schools, Watkins said.
Those who have not yet received required immunizations will not be allowed to attend until they have begun immunizations and have scheduled subsequent shots, Watkins said.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)