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State Seeks To Dismiss Lawsuit By Bristol Parents Over Release Of School Vaccination Data

A civil lawsuit being brought by two Bristol parents against the state Department of Public Health over school vaccination data was delayed in court Monday as attorneys for the state try to get the case tossed.

Kristen and Brian Festa appeared in Hartford Superior Court as they seek to block the state from releasing any more information about vaccination and exemption rates at schools across the state.

Rep. Cara Pavalock-D’Amato, a Republican who represents the Bristol region, acted as the couple’s attorney in court Monday. A group of parents who do not support mandated childhood vaccines sat in the gallery on the plaintiffs’ side.

The Department of Public Health in May published a school-by-school vaccination report for the 2017/2018 year, which identified schools with high exemption rates including Meliora Academy in Meriden. That’s where the Festa’s 7-year-old son, who has autism, attends school, with a religious exemption for childhood vaccines.

In court documents, the couple said since the public release of that data in early May, “hateful and vitriolic statements regarding non-vaccinated students and parents began appearing on the internet,” leading to what they called mental and emotional distress.

The Festas say the release of information has marked children at schools with high exemption rates as “potential targets of harassment,” though the couple conceded that they had not been specifically threatened prior to the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, the Festas say the Department of Health violated a state statute that should have kept the number of exemptions at each school confidential.

But attorney Darren Cunningham, of the state Attorney General’s Office, filed a motion on July 11 to dismiss the case, saying the Festas had no standing in their argument.

In court documents, Cunningham said the report was published in reaction to clusters of measles outbreaks across the country, and that the department would therefore be able to “disseminate among health authorities and the people of the state such information as may be of value to them."

None of these arguments were debated in court Monday. Judge Susan Quinn Cobb said the Festas now have a month to file a response to the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Cunningham will then get until the end of August to respond.

In the meantime, Cunningham said the Department of Public Health does not, as of now, intend to release vaccination data for the 2018/2019 school year. That data had been expected this summer.

Pavalock-D’Amato requested that the May report be taken off the department’s website while the case is ongoing.

“There’s no chance of that,” Cunningham replied before court was adjourned.

Copyright 2019 Connecticut Public