Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Aug. 11, 2020

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School districts adjust to new state vaccine rules

Local approach mostly softer on excluding students than in Seattle

By , Columbian Education Reporter

Seattle Public Schools excluded hundreds of students who couldn’t demonstrate complete vaccination records last week. Here in Clark County, the largest school districts are, for the most part, taking a softer approach to new state rules on vaccines.

School districts in Washington are supposed to exclude students who cannot demonstrate up-to-date vaccinations, immunity to certain diseases or an allowed exemption to vaccinations. The scope of allowed exemptions narrowed last year, when the Legislature passed a bill removing personal and philosophical exemptions to the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine.

The decision followed a 2019 measles outbreak epicentered in Clark County, where 71 people became sick with the highly contagious, but preventable, virus.

Seattle Public Schools responded with a hard-line approach on Jan. 8, initially keeping 565 students out of classes because they were missing the required paperwork, The Seattle Times reported. Evergreen Public Schools officials, meanwhile, say they’re accepting documents on a rolling basis, and are communicating with families about the changes.

“We are currently informing and working with the families to ensure they know what the requirements are, as well as provide the (referrals, resources and sufficient time) to get students vaccinated and/or records in to the district,” Evergreen spokeswoman Gail Spolar said by email.

In December, the district’s most recent count, about 16 percent of the district’s estimated 25,000 students were missing the required records. Evergreen will start excluding students outright beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.

In neighboring Vancouver Public Schools, spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo was unable to give a full count of the number of students who have been excluded from school.

“We don’t have hard numbers of exclusions because the nurses at the schools work with the families directly,” Nuzzo said by email. “A student could be excluded and back the next day after getting a needed vaccine or the paperwork showing compliance.”

Students who are in the process of getting a series of shots are also not prevented from attending school, she said. Homeless students, under federal law, cannot be kept from attending school, so those who are missing paperwork or vaccines are also permitted to attend.

Battle Ground Public Schools took a similar approach to Seattle, setting a date of Sept. 26 for students to turn in their required records. District spokeswoman Rita Sanders could not provide a number of students who were withheld from school, but said by Oct. 8, 26 were excluded because they were out of compliance with the MMR laws.

The state Auditor’s Office found last year that some school districts are not collecting accurate immunization data, nor are they properly excluding students who fail to provide proof of immunity. That means the Department of Health cannot accurately report the “state’s true immunization rate.”