- Associated Press - Friday, September 16, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Some California schools are turning away middle and high school students who have not received a required whooping cough vaccine while others are defying a law passed last year after a historic spike in cases of the potentially fatal disease.

The law approved last September initially required all students entering grades seven through 12 to get vaccinated by the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Lawmakers passed a 30-day extension this summer as districts worried many students wouldn’t meet the deadline.

Under California law, students also can still attend if their parents file a form saying they oppose vaccines.

No statewide estimates of the number of students turned away is available because districts are not required to report their final vaccination tally until December, state education and public health officials said.

But anecdotal reports from individual districts indicate the percentage of students meeting the requirement varied widely, from about half of students to nearly all.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of outreach with the schools trying to let them know,” said Linda Davis-Alldritt, the school nurse consultant for the education department.

On Thursday, San Francisco Unified School District began sending home students who arrived without proof of vaccination or a parental personal belief exemption.

District spokeswoman Heidi Anderson said the district estimates about 2,000 students, or 10 percent of the student body, are still unvaccinated. The district held a free vaccination clinic at its offices Thursday and was providing shots at individual schools Friday.

District officials were optimistic that most students would be able to return to class soon.

“We’re getting down to it,” Anderson said.

The Folsom Cordova Unified School District hit the extended deadline Friday for having all students immunized. Mary Ann Delleney, director of health programs for the district, said about 2,250 students who have yet to get vaccinated won’t be turned away.

“We will not withhold education for students, but we will make every effort that we possibly can to be in compliance with state law,” she said. The district had 70 whooping cough cases last year, she said.

In the Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento, about 1,100 students hadn’t received their immunization shots by Thursday night, said Janet Handley, the assistant supervisor of education services. The district’s 30-day extended deadline ended Friday.

Students who show up Monday without proof of their immunization will be sent to the school’s gymnasium for study hall, Handley said. The students who are sequestered into the gym will not count toward the district’s attendance-based funding for those students on those days, she said. Schools in California lose money for each absence.

“We’re trying to balance how to get the message out that they need to get the shot, and we also need them at school,” Handley said.

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