Judge dismisses lawsuit seeking to block release of school-level vaccination data
A Superior Court judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed by a Bristol couple seeking to bar the disclosure of school-level vaccination data in Connecticut.
Kristen and Brian Festa in May asked the court to block the release of immunization data for 2018-19, the most recent school year. They also asked for the 2017-18 school-by-school figures to be wiped from the state Public Health Department’s website, arguing it was an invasion of privacy, even though no students’ names were included.
The Festas’ 7-year-old son attends Meliora Academy, a Meriden school that was identified in news reports as having a high rate of unvaccinated students. The couple charged that after immunization rates were publicized for the 2017-18 year, parents of unvaccinated children became the targets of “hateful and vitriolic” remarks on social media. The Festas said, however, that they were not directly harassed.
Judge Susan Quinn Cobb noted in her decision that the Festas had not exhausted all of their administrative remedies before filing the lawsuit.
Brian Festa and LeeAnn Ducat, the head of Informed Choice CT, a group that is supportive of parents who elect not to vaccinate their children, visited the state’s health commissioner in May. During their visit, they handed her a letter asking her not to release school-level immunization data for the 2017-18 year. Although Festa claimed that he drafted the letter, it was signed only by Ducat.
Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell published the vaccination rates to her department’s website the same day.
Cobb wrote that the Festas’ efforts didn’t go far enough.
“The plaintiffs claim that because they are members of Informed Choice CT and Brian Festa, an attorney, assisted in drafting the Informed Choice letter as a member of the group’s board, the May 3, 2019 letter and the commissioner’s response are sufficient to establish they exhausted their administrative remedies,” Cobb wrote. “The defendant disagrees and … the court agrees with the defendant.”
Cara Pavalock-D’Amato, a lawyer for the Festas, said the couple already has sent a new letter to Coleman-Mitchell, dated Saturday, asking her not release the latest round of school-level vaccination data. This time, they both added their signatures to the note.
Despite the legal setback, Pavalock-D’Amato said the Festas haven’t given up. State officials have scheduled the publication of the latest school-by-school figures for Oct. 21.
“Obviously we’re disappointed, but it was a procedural denial,” she said. “So that for us actually … was good news, because it’s easily fixable.”
Attorneys for the state did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.
Coleman-Mitchell said in August that she had no plans to release the 2018-19 school-level vaccination rates, noting that the earlier data disclosure came amid a national measles outbreak, and that Connecticut had not recorded a measles case in months. She was quickly overruled by Gov. Ned Lamont, who said the health department would be publishing school-by-school figures this fall.
The Festas then sought a temporary injunction against the release. The case was tossed out before their motion was considered.
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