Tougher laws considered for unvaccinated students

By Sheila V Kumar

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 19 2011 6:30 p.m. MDT

Students who have not been vaccinated against whooping cough or who lacked proof of their vaccination are seen in the gym at Inderkum High School in Sacramento. Calif., , Monday, Sept, 19, 2011. A law passed last year by the state Legislature requires all middle and high school students to receive the vaccination by the start of the 2011- 2012 school year. A 30-day extension had been granted, but many school districts began hitting that deadline last week. Inderkum High principal George Tapanes had students without the vaccination or proof of it sent to the gym. Nurses were giving vaccinations in an adjoining gym.

Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Lawmakers say they will consider tougher requirements for schools that have been defying state law by letting students who cannot prove they have had the whooping cough vaccine remain on campus.

Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher of San Diego was one of the co-authors behind the bill requiring all students between grades seven and 12 to get vaccinated against the disease by the start of the 2011-12 school year.

He said he will consider introducing legislation next year that addresses the potential public health risks of allowing unvaccinated students onto school campuses.

"I certainly envisioned a situation where schools would comply with the law," he said. "If there is still a risk and a threat to the children, we will take a look at it."

The Legislature gave school districts 30 days beyond the start of the school year to make sure all students were vaccinated or had a formal exemption filed by their parents or guardians. Under the law, students who had neither were not to be allowed on campus.

Some districts that started classes in mid-August began hitting the 30-day mark over the past week. Some are allowing unvaccinated students to attend classes as usual, while others are separating them from the rest of the population in gyms and other areas.

"We don't need a gym," Fletcher said. "We need kids to get their vaccination."

California had more than 9,000 whooping cough cases last year, including 10 infants who died because they were too young to receive the vaccination.

Students being allowed to attend school without the inoculation put the rest of the community at risk, said state Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Chico, vice chairman of his chamber's health committee.

"Due to the health risk, we might look at some type of legislation to encourage schools," he said. "The bottom line is we need to find more teeth than the mandate. What's happening right now should not be happening."

On Monday, between 70 and 80 students at Inderkum High School in Sacramento's Natomas neighborhood were sequestered in a gym while vaccination shots were being given in an adjacent gym. High school principal George Tapanes said a majority of those students had received the vaccination but were lacking the forms to prove it.

"So it's more of a paperwork nightmare than there are a lot of kids out there without vaccinations," he said.

District superintendent Walt Hanline, who made the decision to allow unvaccinated students on campus, said the law forced school officials to make a difficult choice.

"The state law said I couldn't have these children on campus, but the state law also said I have to educate children. I could put them on the streets or have them in a safe environment," he said. "I think I'm still following the spirit of the law, but that's in the eye of the beholder."

Roxana Huaman, a 16-year-old junior at Inderkum, said she didn't like the idea of unvaccinated students mingling on campus and potentially spreading the disease.

"I feel like that's not right. I wouldn't want to get sick and miss class that way," she said.

Natomas Unified School District officials say 412 of its 4,051 seventh- through 12th-grade students had yet to be vaccinated by Monday afternoon.

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