Image copyright Adrian Cancio Image caption Some fear vaccines cause autism
More than 500 teachers and administrators at a Los Angeles public school district have been fired for refusing vaccinations.
Over two years, they refused to comply with state laws requiring children aged six or older to have one dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Hundreds of others were suspended or put on leave, according to California Department of Public Health records obtained by the LA Times.
The LA school district said the lawsuit had no bearing on the firing of the teachers and administrators.
All were fired between December 2016 and January 2018, says the Times.
Image copyright Raluca Egele Image caption The district also banned food vendors from serving food that is prepared in a way that could trigger illness
The district said on its website: “The principles of due process in our legal system do not apply here.”
The Board of Education is independent of the school district, according to the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Surveys among the teachers had shown a majority of them believed vaccinations could cause autism, which has been repeatedly disproven by science.
“The day when any parent could choose a child to be unvaccinated just because the parent didn’t like the medicine is over,” the district said.
The district was the most extreme of the 56 counties in the county that asked a state appeals court for guidance on whether local school districts could refuse vaccinations for non-medical reasons.
The LA Times reports this is not the first time the LA school district has rejected vaccine restrictions.
It previously launched a lawsuit against the county school board to be exempt from immunisation requirements, which eventually forced the state school board to modify its regulations.
The teachers who were fired or suspended could appeal their cases before a four-person panel, the Times reports.
Image copyright Los Angeles Unified School District Image caption But legal experts said the school district was wrong to push the policy through without any public discussion
But legal experts told the Times that the board went about imposing the policy on its teachers “without notice and without any opportunity for public discussion or feedback”.
Most other school districts in the county were required to pay some of the school district’s cost of defending the lawsuit.
However, other counties had asked the state court of appeals for guidance, and all five other counties had been remanded to the California State Board of Education to revise their vaccination regulations, or place new restrictions.
What scientists say
Image copyright Reuters Image caption A health worker collects samples of dead maggots from a playground after an outbreak of mumps
Motherwell Health, the group that sued on behalf of the teachers and administrators, called the district’s actions a “vindictive attack” on its members.
The Los Angeles school district currently has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state.
The proportion of students of all ages who are immunised against disease varies widely according to the county they live in and is lowest among poorer areas.
‘Shameful, wrong and unconstitutional’
The mass dismissal of people who weren’t legally required to have a vaccination is “shameful, wrong and unconstitutional”, says Dr Natalie Thompson, deputy director of the LA County Department of Public Health.
“Under California law, it is unacceptable for any individual to choose to be unvaccinated on religious, philosophical or other grounds,” she said.
“It is discrimination. It’s unethical and it’s dangerous.”
Prof Simon Chapman, a member of the British Academy’s School Immunisation Expert Group, has called for a change in state law to require vaccinations.
But he says mandatory vaccine laws need to be “not just in line with science but more than that”.
“Government can’t just stop you if you don’t want to get a vaccination,” he told the BBC.
“Just because the government disagrees with your view doesn’t mean the government can stop you.”