Hudok speaks at Pickens graduation

Both the senior who was banned from attending classes because of her refusal to update her vaccinations, and the judge who presided over the lawsuit filed over the situation, spoke during the Pickens School commencement ceremonies Saturday.

“I have had quite a year,” Olivia Hudok, the class valedictorian, said during the ceremony. “I was faced with a decision: to give in to what I strongly believed was wrong, and accept the mandatory vaccinations, or to become different from nearly all other students and to refuse those vaccinations.

“This was a decision I had to make on my own,” she said. “I knew I had to stand up for what I believed, whatever the sacrifice may be. By deciding not to be vaccinated, I was told that I could not physically attend Pickens School, and it was even questioned whether I could attend my prom and graduation.”

On May 23, Terry George, Randolph County’s interim superintendent of schools, announced that Hudok would be allowed to take part in the graduation ceremonies. During her speech Saturday, Hudok thanked George and his predecessor, Dr. James Phares, who resigned in December to become the state superintendnet of schools. Hudok also thanked “the media for fair coverage.”

George and Randolph County Board of Education member Ed Tyre were on hand for Saturday’s ceremony.

In her speech, Hudok also expressed her gratitude to Pickens School, her 2013 classmate, Keith Tenney, and her teachers, which included her mother and father.

“I acquired some very valuable life skills during my time at Pickens,” she said. “Probably the most important is not being afraid of being different when different is, in fact, better.

“Unlike most public schools, we don’t have locks on the lockers or writing on the bathroom walls, and while walking in the hallways during class change, it is easy to see there is no inappropriate language spoken.

“Here at Pickens, we hold on to our morals, our values and our traditions, and we are proud of being different,” Hudok said.

Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong, ironically, served as the commencement speaker at Pickens. She did not directly reference the Hudok lawsuit in her speech, but, while giving advice to the graduates, said, “Stand up for people and things you believe in, and, to quote your valedictorian, even if it means standing alone.”

During Saturday’s ceremony, Hudok received a scholarship to Davis & Elkins College, as well as the William H. Burky Memorial Scholarship, the Pickens Alumni Scholarship, a Snowshoe Foundation Scholarship, a $500 scholarship from the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce, and a West Virginia PROMISE scholarship.

Two Sept. 7. 2012 memos, one from the school system and one from the Elkins-Randolph County Health Department, informed Hudok she could not return to school without proof of a booster for Tdap and MCV4 vaccinations. The Tdap immunization protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Meningococcal meningitis, a serious bacterial infection of the spinal cord, is prevented with the MCV4 vaccine. Hudok refused to take the vaccination for religious reasons.

She and her father, Phil Hudok, filed a complaint against the Randolph County Board of Education and then-Superintendent Phares on Sept. 11. They asked for a religious exemption allowing her to return to school.

On Sept. 28, Wilfong ordered the school system to provide educational services for Olivia Hudok until there was a final resolution in the Kanawha County Circuit Court, where there was a legal challenge to the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources’ interpretive rule that all seventh- and 12th-graders receive Tdap and MCV4 booster vaccinations.

On Oct. 17, the Kanawha County Circuit Court upheld the interpretive rule. At a November hearing in Randolph County, attorney Greg Bailey, representing the Randolph BOE and Phares, asked for a dismissal of the instructional injunctive relief. Wilfong ruled that the case would continue, and the Randolph County BOE would continue providing homebound learning for Olivia Hudok until the West Virginia Supreme Court gives further direction.