By Anne Dachel
In May, I found the news reports about a young woman, Olivia Hudok, who stood up to officials and refused two vaccinations required for school in West Virginia, a state that does not allow for a either a religious or personal belief exemption. (Only a medical exemption is allowed in West Virginia.) May 24, 2013, San Francisco Chronicle May 24, 2013, TheIntermountain.com: Hudok to graduate with class
As a result, Olivia was barred from attending school starting in September, 2012, which meant she missed her senior year at the high school.
I was intrigued by what I read in The Intermountain:
"Olivia Hudok, the class valedictorian, was told last Sept. 7 by Randolph County school officials that she could no longer attend classes without proof of vaccination. She and her father, Phil, took the issue to court, and on Sept. 28 Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong ordered that the school system must still provide homebound educational services for Hudok.
"The Hudoks told The Inter-Mountain earlier this week that Olivia planned to attend the Pickens graduation ceremony Saturday. On Thursday, Interim Superintendent of Randolph County Schools Terry George announced Olivia will be allowed to take part in the commencement exercises."
Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong, the judge who told the district that they had to provide Olivia with educational services during the time she was excluded from school, was the commencement speaker at her graduation in May.
I contacted Olivia and she agreed to answer questions about her actions and how she was treated. Q: The Intermountain.com story said that you had refused two mandated vaccinations and that you subsequently had been been banned from school since Sept, 2012 because of your non-compliance. Why did officials take such drastic actions?Olivia: Starting in the 2012-2013 school year, the Department of Health and Human Resources stated that two vaccinations (tDap and Meningitis) were required for students beginning 7th and 12th grades. I received two memos in September. One from the Randolph-Elkins Health Department stating that I must be refused admission to Pickens School because I had not shown proof of the two vaccines required by law for school entry to 12th grade. The other memo was on a Friday from County Superintendent Dr. Phares, threatening physical removal the following Monday for trespass at the high school today if I came, due to vaccination non-compliance.My attorney believed that what the health department claimed was law, in fact, was not law at all. The DHHR failed to get legislative approval for their new vaccination requirements as prescribed by the law. Instead, the health department claimed interpretive rule.Considering that every state in the United States allows a religious exemption except California (which does include a religious objection in their philosophical exemption), and Mississippi, residents of West Virginia seem to be denied their basic First Amendment rights when it comes to vaccinations. What do you hope your actions will lead to?Olivia: Hopefully the legislature will pass a religious freedom act in the upcoming legislative session so that people like me with religious convictions have a law protecting them against vaccinations and other related issues. A religious freedom act would protect the responsibility of parents to make decisions in raising their children, as they are entrusted by God.I hope that I have set precedence for those that they can stand up for what they know is right, even if they are the only ones.
Q. Why did Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong have to order the school district to provide
homebound educational services for you?Olivia: The attorneys for the DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resources) and the county school board questioned whether I should be able to receive an education through the public school system. Chapter 16 of the WV Constitution does provide for preventing enrollment but does not provide for expulsion for vaccination non-compliance. Therefore, they could not prevent me from receiving a high school education. Q. How did your friends and others react to your stand against forced vaccination?Olivia: I am very blessed to have supportive friends and family. They were all understanding of my conviction and were very supportive in my case. An 11th grade friend of mine said that she was thankful that I was standing against the mandatory vaccinations because she would be required to take them the following year. Through television, radio, and newspaper interviews, I found that there are others like me. I am also thankful for the fair media coverage that I received.Q. On May 25 you were allowed to attend your graduation where you gave a speech as valedictorian. What was the subject of your talk?
SEE OLIVIA'S VALEDICTORY SPEECHQ. Judge Wilfong gave the commencement address at your graduation. What did she talk about?Olivia: She said that she wasn't going to deliver the traditional commencement speech about us graduates following our dreams because she figured we knew that already. Instead, she concentrated on ten points of advice and thoughts that she had found to be practical in her own life. Some of these were-that we will only be young once, and that the older we get, the faster time goes; that we are all given a special set of gifts, so we do not need to be good at everything; that the one commonality between friends may be world and moral values; and that we must own our thoughts and be accountable for our actions. In another point that she was making, she referenced words of mine from a previous newspaper interview by saying, "Stand up for people and things you believe in, and, to quote your valedictorian, 'even if it means standing alone'."I found Judge Wilfong to be a very kindhearted and intelligent woman, and I was very thankful to have as good a commencement speaker as she. Q. Did the West Virginia Supreme Court rule on your case?Olivia: No final ruling was made in my case before graduation. Circuit Court Judge Wilfong decided that until a pending related case in the W.Va. Supreme Court was ruled on, the county would continue my education via homebound instruction. A group called “We the Parents” is waiting for a W.Va. Supreme Court decision on the legality of interpretive rule. “We the Parents” are represented by the same attorney who represented me at the circuit court level. Q. Considering that your actions meant you had to miss your senior year in high school, do you have any regrets?Olivia: I was saddened that I could not physically attend my school and be with my Pickens "family" but I knew I had to make sacrifices if I wanted to stand up for what was right. I have no regrets, and I would be willing to do it again if necessary.
It was inspiring to read Olivia's responses. She knew what was at stake and she didn't turn back. Because of her actions, more people may have the courage to question vaccine mandates and stand up for individual freedom.
As for Olivia's future, she told me, "I will be attending Davis & Elkins College in WV in the fall where I will possibly major in biology in preparation for a career in physical or occupational therapy. Through this vaccination battle, I have also found a new interest in journalism, so I am considering it as well."