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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Schools gets tough on vaccinations

Starting Monday, children will be removed from classrooms

Kids showing up at Spokane public schools on Monday without proof that they’ve had required immunizations or a signed waiver will be pulled out of classrooms.

This is the first time Washington’s law to exclude children from school is being enforced in the region’s largest school district. So far, no other school district has announced plans to take similar steps.

“The recent measles outbreak across the nation gave us reason to review our compliance rate and our procedures to determine ways to improve our process,” said Kevin Morrison, district spokesman. “The goal is to ensure that our parents and guardians are aware of the state law and that we have the appropriate documentation to minimize health risks to our students.”

District officials estimate about 922 students are out of compliance.

If parents don’t want their child to have shots for personal, philosophical, medical or religious reasons, they have to file a waiver with the district. All but the religious exemption require the signature of a health care professional, attesting that they’ve described the benefits and risks of immunizations to the parents.

Students who don’t provide proof of immunization or a waiver will be removed from class and their parents called to the school. The district will inform the parents what steps need to be taken and about free immunization clinics being offered this week.

Jared Hoadley, Mead School District’s director of student services, said officials in that district try to get kids into compliance, “but my guess is we do have kids who have not been immunized.” Still, he said, “There are no plans at this point to pull them out of school.”

Morrison said Monday’s deadline should come as no surprise to parents. Starting in mid-February, the district has left at least three voicemails at students’ homes, sent a reminder via certified mail and sent multiple notifications home with students.

“We have bothered parents to the point we are getting complaints,” he said.

Parents who request a waiver are informed that their child may not be allowed to attend school if there’s an outbreak of a disease the student hasn’t been fully vaccinated against.

“If there’s a measles outbreak, their students will be excluded from classrooms for 21 days,” said Morrison, the Spokane Public Schools spokesman. “Basically, we are protecting them and making sure we have healthy, safe environments for learning.”

In February, Spokane Public Schools had the second-highest number of students in the state with immunization waivers, according to the Washington Department of Health. The Spokane district also had incomplete immunization records for more than 5,000 students at that time.

An official with the Spokane Regional Health District called the decision to send children home from school unprecedented and bold, but one the health district supports. That’s why the district is offering an immunization clinic blitz this week at Spokane high schools.

“We admire Spokane Public Schools for doing this,” said Alexandra Hayes, the health district’s immunization outreach coordinator. “It certainly takes a lot of work, but it protects our kids and the community.”