Students awaiting vaccinations to stay in school
Kanawha seventh- and 12th-graders who have not received newly required vaccinations are still being allowed to attend school.
Brenda Isaac, the county's chief school nurse, said nurses are still attempting to contact parents about the new requirements. She said students can continue attending school if their parents promise to send updated shot records, plan to get their children vaccinated at a soon-coming doctor's appointment or vow to take their child to an upcoming vaccination clinic.
"If the parents are saying, 'Yes, I'm going to take them,' we're not going to make them stay home until then," she said. "So far we've not had any students that have refused that we've had to excuse."
Beginning this school year, students are required to receive meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines before their seventh- and 12th-grade years.
And despite months of media reports about the requirements, Isaac said some parents are still in the dark.
"We're still finding people who are saying they didn't know anything about it," she said.
She said nurses have spent much of their time since school started last month trying to contact parents, to make sure student shot records are up to date.
"It's not as easy as it sounds because it's not always easy to get someone on the phone. It's required a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of manpower," she said.
There are other extenuating circumstances.
She said some children have recently moved in with one of their parents, their grandparents or another guardian and have no copies of their records.
One student just enrolled in a Kanawha County school, and the mother has no way to get the child to a clinic to receive the required shots.
"It's going to take a few days to get that child immunized, and we're not going to keep him out of school while we work through the system with her," Isaac said. "It's not a simple situation."
She said homeless students cannot ever be kept out of school because of immunizations, according to the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
"We have to make every effort to even try to let them attend their home school," she said.
Last year, almost 400 students countywide were considered homeless. Students living in shelters, teenagers not living at home and children of families who have temporarily moved in with friends all qualify as "homeless."
Isaac said school nurses have spent an "inordinate" amount of time in the weeks since school started trying to sort through students' situations. The school system even hired three substitute nurses last week to help ease workloads.
Substitute nurses are paid $117 daily.
"The rule is a good idea, the immunizations are important, but I think it was done with little thought of the realities of being out in the field. It's easy to write a rule if you're not the one implementing it," Isaac said.
The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department will have a walk-in clinic this Wednesday for seventh- and 12th-grade students who still have not received their required meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines.
The clinic runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students should bring a copy of their shot records.