HARTFORD — The Bristol couple who challenged the release of school-by-school immunization data are asking the court to stop the state from releasing a new batch of information next week.
In court documents, Rep. Cara Pavalock-D’Amato, who represented Brian and Kristen Festa during the trial court phase, asked the court to prevent the Department of Public Health from releasing new data while the Festas pursue their appeal.
“To deny the plaintiffs a stay of the release of further school-by-school immunization data would be to essentially deny the plaintiffs the right to an appeal, thus working an injustice upon them by denying them their due process right to seek appellate relief,” Pavalock-D’Amato wrote in her brief.
She added that “Once this data is released, the Plaintiffs’ case is rendered largely moot, since they can no longer obtain the primary relief they seek, i.e., the prevention of the release of the 2018-19 school-by-school immunization data.”
Superior Court Judge Susan Cobb concluded in September that the court lacked jurisdiction because the Festas had not exhausted their efforts with the Connecticut Department of Public Health, which released the school-by-school data for the first time on May 3.
The Festas have a son who attends Meliora Academy in Meriden where 18.5 percent of the students reported religious exemptions to required vaccinations during the 2017-18 school year. The names of students who submit exemptions are not part of the data released by the state.
In Litchfield County the Connecticut School Survey County Data Summary for 2017-18, shows there were 40 religious exemptions for vaccinations for kindergartners, and 41 such exemptions for students in seventh grade.
The Festas claim that almost immediately after the DPH release of the information on May 3 that “hateful and vitriolic statements regarding non-vaccinated students and parents began appearing on the internet.”
Assistant Attorney General Darren Cunningham pointed out it wasn’t until the Festas filed the lawsuit that the harassment against them began.
Cunningham said in court documents that the Festas “concede that direct threats to them were not made by the Defendant and were the result of the Plaintiffs publicly identifying themselves in the pleadings in this case.”
The Festas joined with Informed Choice CT on May 10 in writing a letter to the Department of Public Health asking them to discontinue releasing this data and to remove the current vaccination data from its website. That letter was the basis for their appeal to the trial court.
The data the state released included the percentage of children in kindergarten and seventh grade in each school who were vaccinated against measles and other diseases as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The DPH also included the percentage of children in any grade who claimed an immunization exemption, which is based on what the schools report to the state.
Preliminary statewide data for the 2018-19 school year show the largest single-year increase in students using religious exemptions to required school vaccinations since it started tracking the information a decade ago.
The statewide rate of kindergatners receiving the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine also has declined. The department reported that it dropped from 96.5 percent in 2017-18 to 95.9 percent in 2018-19. That’s a decrease of 0.6 percent based on data reported to the agency as of Aug. 13.
The Festas filed their intention with the Appellate Court to appeal the decision of the trial court, but no information beyond the docket is publicly available at the moment.
“We are confident in the merits of this case. The Office of the Attorney General will oppose the stay sought by the plaintiffs in this case and will respond in court,” Elizabeth Benton, a spokesman for Attorney General William Tong, said.
Without any sort of judicial intervention the 2018-19 school-by-school immunization rates and number of religious exemptions will be released Monday.