A Pickens School senior who was banned from attending school because of her refusal to update her vaccinations will be permitted to participate in her commencement ceremony, officials said Thursday.
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.
"Upon further reflection, I have determined that Olivia Hudok will be permitted to participate in her graduation ceremony at Pickens School," George said in a prepared statement.
"In view of the fact that Olivia Hudok has expressed her intent to attend the ceremony, I may not conclude that the public health risk would be significantly elevated by permitting her to participate rather than observe," George said. "The student's interest in participating in the graduation ceremony and enjoying the recognition of her accomplishment outweighs any other factors that bear upon this decision."
In an email earlier this week, Phil Hudok told The Inter-Mountain that Olivia attended the Pickens prom earlier this month. Phil Hudok asked the school board at several meetings this year for a decision on whether Olivia would be allowed to attend her prom and graduation, but never received a decisive answer from officials.
Olivia Hudok, who is now 18, also gave her senior project presentation to school staff one evening at the school, and was a guest of honor at the Pickens Alumni Dinner, where she received a $600 alumni scholarship, Phil Hudok said.
Olivia Hudok said this week she was preparing her commencement speech and hoped that it inspires others. Commencement at Pickens School is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday. Graduation is open to the public.
Ironically, Wilfong will be the commencement speaker at Pickens.
"I am happy that Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong is the commencement speaker," Olivia Hudok said. "I am looking forward to hearing her speak."
Olivia Hudok said she gives God all the credit for her accomplishments.
"It's not about whether you win or not, it's about standing up for what is right," she said. "Even if it means standing alone."
Two Sept. 7 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 Dr. James Phares 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.