School districts working to comply on vaccinations

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MOSES LAKE — School districts across the county are working to meet the Grant County Health District’s request that all students either be vaccinated or have waivers on file with their schools by Nov. 1.

But not all districts are going to make that deadline.

“We will not be meeting Nov. 1,” said Pamela Cleveringa, school nurse for the Ephrata School District. “But we will get it done by the end of the year.”

Cleveringa said the slow pace was dictated by her small staff — it is just her and a health aide managing records and working with students, parents and staff in a district of 2,900 students — and by her desire to make sure that students and their families are really helped.

State law requires all school students and kids in licensed daycare centers to be vaccinated (or have exemptions) against 10 different diseases — Hepatitis B, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, haemophilus influenzae (which can cause meningitis and pneumonia), polio, pneumococcus, mumps, measles, rubella and chickenpox.

Kids who do not have vaccination records or exemptions on file can be excluded from school until the paperwork is completed.

Cleveringa said she likes to work with families to get everything she needs, and that sometimes requires patience.

“There are barriers to vaccination, but I can help families through it,” Cleveringa said. “Which is why it takes time to get to the exclusion piece.”

“We have very few cases of those who are opposed,” said Quincy School Superintendent John Boyd. “We’re not really dealing with that.”

Mostly, Boyd said, the problem is handling paperwork and the time needed to get it all done, something he discovered as a principal of a West Side school filled with immigrant and refugee children.

“A lot gets lost in translation,” Boyd said.

Boyd said that while access to insurance and health care itself can be an issue, Quincy has “good community health care.”

Steve Banda, director of special services for the Moses Lake School District, said that while children aren’t supposed to be registered in the first place without the proper records, the district has historically let kids in first and assembled the records as the school year went on.

“The law says may, not shall, we’ve just taken every kid and worked out stuff later,” Banda said.

But now, as it works to deal with a chickenpox outbreak in three of its elementary schools, Banda said the district is now trying to adhere much more closely to state rules on vaccinations, exemptions and paperwork.

“We’ve gotten a lot better,” Banda said.

After identifying eight cases of chickenpox, the Grant County Health District has sent letters to the principals of Park Orchard Elementary, North Elementary and Longview Elementary recommending that all students and staff “who have not had the chicken pox and have not been vaccinated with two doses of varicella vaccine get vaccinated immediately. Getting vaccinated within 5 days of exposure can prevent the chickenpox.”

Banda said there is another reason to move slowly in any attempt to exclude students who have not been vaccinated, or provided proof of vaccination or exemption.

“I’m reluctant to exclude students because education is a legal right, so there’s due process involved,” he said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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