Teen Unvaccinated For Chickenpox Sues Kentucky Health Department After Being Banned From School Extracurriculars

A high school student in Kentucky is suing the Northern Kentucky Health Department and other state Health Department officials after an outbreak of chickenpox at his private school led to his removal from the school's basketball team.

Jerome Kunkel, an 18-year-old senior at Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky, filed the lawsuit against the health department on Thursday in Boone County Circuit Court.

The suit alleges that the department violated Kunkel's freedom of religion and other rights after the health department implemented a three-week ban for unvaccinated students to attend classes at Assumption Academy and neighboring Our Lady of Assumption Academy.

Both schools are private Catholic institutions.

The ban was implemented on March 14, according to a statement from the Northern Kentucky Health Department. The schools have been fighting chickenpox since the outbreak began in February, with 32 cases impacting just over 100 students attending Our Lady of Assumption Academy.

In an effort to contain the illness the KYHD required, "all students without proof of vaccination or proof of immunity against chickenpox will not be allowed to attend school until 21 days after the onset of rash for the last ill student or staff member." The ban also extended to "all school events and extracurricular activities involving other schools or the public."

In addition, "all school events and extracurricular activities involving other schools or the public," have been canceled until three-weeks after the last student or staff member experiences symptoms.

"These events would include any instances where students from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy are going into other schools/public areas, or the public/other schools are coming to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy. Events include but are not limited to sporting events (including both home and away games), fairs, festivals, music events, etc," the notice reads.

According to Kunkel, no students or staff at Assumption Academy have been diagnosed with chickenpox.

According, to Cincinnati.com, Kunkel, a member of the Assumption Academy basketball team, was told he could no longer play sports since has not been vaccinated for chickenpox.

"The fact that I can't finish my senior year in basketball, like, our last couple of games, it's pretty devastating. I mean, you go through four years of high school playing basketball you look forward to your senior year," Kunkel told WLWT.

Kunkel has not been vaccinated due to the religious beliefs he and his family hold, the lawsuit says.

"Among other fundamental and deeply held religious beliefs of Mr. Kunkel, and the beliefs of his family, is that the use of any vaccine that is derived from aborted fetal cells is immoral, illegal and sinful," the suit reads.

Though current vaccines for chickenpox do not utilize fetal cells, the initial vaccination created in the 1960s, along with several other vaccines, were developed using aborted fetus cells.

Bill Kunkel, Jerome Kunkel's father, told WXIX-TV that he tried to talk to the Northern Kentucky Health Department before the lawsuit was filed, but that the department would not budge.

"It's terrible that they can do this in this free country," Bill Kunkel said.

Kunkel's lawsuit also states that an official with the health department displayed religious animus towards the family, writing in an email: "Without definitive evidence of immunity, a person could be a source of potential exposure, even if they are currently healthy. It's impossible to know how anyone will react to chickenpox, therefore we must act with an abundance of caution," Cincinnati.com reports.

"We are aware of the lawsuit filed by Jerome Kunkel, and want to state that the actions taken by the Health Department with respect to Assumption Academy were done consistent with this agency's statutory charge to protect the public health," the KYHD said in a March 15 statement, "The recent actions taken by the Northern Kentucky Health Department regarding the chickenpox outbreak at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy was in direct response to a public health threat and was an appropriate and necessary response to prevent further spread of this contagious illness."

The suit is seeking an undisclosed amount for damages.