LITTLE ROCK, Ark. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to hear an appeal by a group seeking exemptions to a state law mandating vaccinations for public school students, saying their arguments on that point are moot.
A three-judge panel ruled March 8 that changes Arkansas made to the law have granted the exemptions the students and their parents requested, leaving no legal issue for the court to decide.
Some of the students and their parents sued because they held religious beliefs against taking the vaccinations. Others objected for different reasons. The law previously granted exemptions for religious reasons, but that section was ruled unconstitutional since it only applied to practitioners of recognized religions.
That 2002 ruling erased all provisions for opting out but left the immunization requirements intact. Greg Karber, a Fort Smith attorney representing the plaintiffs, obtained an injunction allowing about 500 unvaccinated students to continue attending school while the case was in the courts.
The state Legislature later amended the statute to grant broader exemptions based on "religious or philosophical beliefs." That action prompted the court's decision yesterday in McCarthy v. Ozark School District.
The plaintiffs also have challenged a portion of state regulations implementing the new law. Those rules require students to file an annual exemption application, a notarized statement requesting the exemption, completion of a class on the risks and benefits of vaccinations, a signed consent statement regarding their refusal and a signed statement authorizing the state Department of Health to bar non-immunized children from school during an outbreak of a covered disease.
The appeals court said it could not rule on those objections because lower courts had not considered the challenge.