Rally of support for Thorn Schwartz

John Christensen
Thorn Schwartz

PENN YAN — Thorn Schwartz, the severely autistic boy who was banned from school because of his medical exemption from vaccinations, has been allowed to return to his special education school in Rochester, and a rally of support is called for the hearing date of his case in Yates County Court.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Dan Doyle signed an order in late January ordering Thorn back to school at Monroe One BOCES in Fairport. Thorn was banned from his school Sept. 18, 2019 when the school doctor overruled Thorn’s doctor and denied his medical exemption from vaccines under the emergency regulations set by the New York State Department of Health in August 2019. But that is just a temporary restraining order until the Article 78 case filed by his parents is decided.

The case will next be heard Feb. 21 in Yates County Court before Judge Doyle, and supporters of Thorn and students like him are organizing a rally of support at 1:30 p.m. in front of the courthouse on Liberty Street in Penn Yan.

Thorn had been attending the school for three years with a medical exemption, and his parents were amazed by his progress there. But the amount he regressed in the 78 days he missed was very disheartening for them. Non-verbal and with obsessive behaviors and considerable physical strength, Thorn returned to the self harm and physical violence he showed before he was enrolled at Monroe One. Thorn beats himself and has smashed appliances, cabinets, and possessions in his frustration after being removed from his school routine, according to his father, Carl Schwartz, a Penn Yan attorney.

Judge Doyle’s order states that Monroe One BOCES is “directed to re-admit TS as soon as practicable,” and orders that Monroe One BOCES, “shall ensure as soon as practicable that TS receives all services he was receiving prior to his exclusion from school.”

Monroe One BOCES spokeswoman Stephanie Robusto stated, “Monroe One BOCES will comply with the temporary order issued by the Court. We will also continue to follow the law and guidance provided by the New York State Department of Health.”

Attorney Patti Finn says Thorn Schwartz is the first student in New York State to be ordered back to school in a case like this. “And I’m hoping Thorn is the first of many others to get back in school,” Finn said, adding that there are 200 children in the state just like Thorn.

State lawmakers repealed the religious exemption on vaccines in June during a measles outbreak scare, and the N.Y.S. Dept. of Health enacted emergency regulations on medical exemptions requiring children’s doctors to fill out a new “medical exemption form” and “outline specific justifications for each required vaccine.”

Carl Schwartz says that scare has since been proven false, and the state DOH overstepped its authority. He is hopeful that Doyle’s order was made in likelihood of a favorable final decision this week.

In response to the order, the DOH stated they would not comment on pending litigation, but said, “We stand by the importance of the regulatory amendments which strengthen and clarify the process by which physicians can grant medical exemptions to vaccination requirements.”

Judge Doyle’s temporary restraining order applies only in Thorn’s specific case, though the judge could have restrained the state’s regulations entirely. He crossed that part out of the order. The Feb. 21 hearing may change that.

Includes reporting by Berkeley Brean, WHEC News partner