The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge
Plaintiffs Howard Hadley and Barbara Hadley, on behalf of their minor son Harry Hadley, ("Hadley") bring this action against defendant Rush Henrietta Central School District (the "School District") claiming that the defendant has violated their Constitutional rights. Specifically, plaintiffs contend that the defendant has violated their rights to freedom of religion by preventing Hadley from playing high school lacrosse because of his refusal, on religious grounds, to have a tetanus vaccination. Plaintiffs contend that a vaccination is inconsistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs, and therefore, the School District's requirement that participants in lacrosse be vaccinated violates their right to the free exercise of their religion. Plaintiffs also allege a violation of Hadley's right to an education under New York State Law.
By motion dated August 12, 2005, the defendant moves to dismiss plaintiffs' Complaint on grounds that the plaintiffs have failed to state a cause of action for the violation of a Constitutional right or Hadley's right to an education under New York law. Specifically, the School District contends that because there is no Constitutional right to participate in extra-curricular sports, plaintiffs have failed to allege the deprivation of a constitutional right. With respect to plaintiffs' state law claim, defendant contends that because the right to an education under New York Law does not encompass the right to participate in extracurricular activities, plaintiffs have failed to allege the deprivation of Hadley's right to an education under New York law.
By motion dated November 6, 2005, plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction enjoining the defendant from prohibiting Hadley from participating in lacrosse because of his refusal to be vaccinated for tetanus. The parties agreed to waive a hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a temporary injunction, and the motion was submitted to the court on the papers submitted by both parties.
For the reasons set forth below, I grant plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, and stay this action pending resolution of current administrative proceedings before the New York State Commissioner of Education.
Plaintiff Harry Hadley is currently a twelfth-grade student at Rush-Henrietta High School in Henrietta, New York. According to the Complaint, Hadley has participated in extra-curricular athletics, including lacrosse, since seventh grade. Although plaintiffs contend that Hadley participated without being immunized for tetanus, defendants contend that medical records indicate that despite the plaintiffs' current religiously-based opposition to vaccinations, Hadley had been immunized for tetanus in 1994.
In 1998, pursuant to New York State law, the plaintiffs applied for and obtained an immunization waiver from the defendant School District. The waiver allows Hadley to attend school without undergoing immunizations required of all other students in the State of New York. The waiver was granted pursuant to Section 2164(9) of the New York Public Health Law, which exempts persons who hold a sincere religious belief that requires abstinence from vaccinations from the immunization requirement. Pursuant to that waiver, Hadley has been permitted to attend school, including gym class, without undergoing all required immunizations.
In the Spring of 2005, despite having played lacrosse for several years, Hadley was informed by the School District that if he wanted to continue his participation in lacrosse, he would be required to have a tetanus vaccination. While the School District recognized that Hadley had been playing lacrosse for several years, and that he was attending school pursuant to an immunization waiver, the District nevertheless insisted that Hadley be immunized on grounds that District policy required the vaccination. In support of this argument, the District relied on a handbook issued to all student-athletes which stated that "[i]t is strongly recommended that students have a tetanus vaccine every ten (10) years." (Emphasis added). The handbook further stated that "[t]he school physician may withhold sports clearance for a student whose tetanus is overdue."
During the spring of 2005, Hadley was allowed to practice indoors with the lacrosse team, but was not allowed to compete or practice with the team outdoors. During that time, the plaintiffs appealed the School District's decision to prohibit Hadley from participating in extra-curricular athletics to the New York State Commissioner of Education ("the Commissioner"). Based on information contained in the submissions, it appears that the issue on appeal before the Commissioner is whether or not the waiver from immunization contained in Section 2164(9)*fn1 of the New York Public Health Law applies not only to school attendance, but to participation in school-sponsored extra-curricular activities as well. Plaintiffs contend that the immunization waiver issued to Hadley applies both to his attendance in school and to his participation in school-sponsored extra-curricular activities. Defendant contends that the waiver merely allows Hadley to attend school, but does not give him the right to participate in extracurricular sports without first being immunized.
I. Preliminary Injunction Standard
To be entitled to a preliminary injunction, a party must demonstrate: (1) that it is subject to irreparable harm; and (2) that it will either likely succeed on the merits of the case, or that there are sufficiently serious questions going to the merits of the case to make them a fair ground for litigation, and that a balancing of the hardships between the parties weighs decidedly in favor of the party requesting the relief. ...