NEW CASTLE, PA. Schools enforce measles-shot rule
Schools risk losing state money if pupils aren't vaccinated.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Fourteen youngsters are still barred from class in the New Castle School District because they haven't gotten a second measles shot.
They were sent home Monday when an eight-month grace period set up by state health and school officials ended. Local and state officials say they can't return to class until they are immunized.
A state education department spokesman says the kids can't be considered "truant" because they are being excluded from school because of a health hazard.
Instead, districts have been advised to report pupils and their parents to county child welfare agencies if they don't get immunized within 15 days, said Al Bowman, state education department spokesman.
Child welfare services "may be able to go and get the child vaccinated. Youth services is normally involved with cases of neglect," he said.
Across the state: Districts statewide are reporting schoolchildren being sent home or not showing up for class this week because they are not vaccinated. Bowman said they should know sometime Friday how many pupils were excluded from school this week because of the immunization mandate.
In 1997, the health department imposed a deadline of eight months from the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year for everyone to get two measles shots. The requirement immediately affected children entering kindergarten and first grade, and older pupils who had received only one shot were given additional time to get another one.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends measles vaccinations for children on or after their first birthday and again between ages 4 and 6. The CDC began recommending the second vaccine after discovering that, between 1985 and 1988, 68 percent of school-age children who contracted measles had been vaccinated previously.
The Associated Press reported this week that nurses in Pittsburgh gave shots to 650 pupils at an evening clinic Monday, which was that district's deadline.
A task force was formed to take care of 11,000 students who had not shown proof of a second vaccination; as of Tuesday, an estimated 1,100 remained.
What's being done: In Lawrence County, school nurses said they sent letters to parents, withheld report cards and even made home visits to get parents to comply with the state health regulation. Most districts had all pupils vaccinated or only a few pupils still needing the shot this week.
Bowman said the pupils are being excluded for health reasons, but the districts also risk losing money if they aren't fully vaccinated.
"If a school district does not exclude, and even if they do exclude, they can no longer include those students in average daily membership, their rolls. At this point in the year, it's probably a minimal impact on the school budget," he said.
State education and health officials say they will continue to enforce the shot mandate next school year and districts without vaccinated pupils could lose more money.
Bowman said those pupils with legitimate medical concerns, such as allergies to vaccinations, or parents who come to the school and note religious reasons against it, will be exempted from the measles mandate.