- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

The D.C. school board has decided that students who are not fully immunized by Jan. 25 will be kept out of classes a move that could affect as many as 29,000 children.
The decision was taken after the board heard that 44 percent of the children in the District's schools are not fully immunized three months into the school year. The law requires D.C. students to produce immunization records within 10 days of the start of school.
"We are very concerned when we had a scarlet fever outbreak in the city's schools [last year] it was a very scary event. There is now a re-emergence of tuberculosis in the city. We need to make sure our children are immunized," said Tommy Wells, District 3 board member, who introduced the motion for the January deadline.
Mr. Wells said he chose the end of the academic semester so children would not suffer midway through the term and parents would have two months to get their children immunized.
Some D.C. parents, however, criticized the move as one that ultimately would punish children.
"As a parent, I understand the need for having children immunized. But excluding children from school only punishes them. I think our children have suffered enough this school year," said Iris Toyer, chairman of Parents United for D.C. Schools.
"Prior to excluding children, our school system and public health system need to be aggressive and get the children immunized. Maybe a real public campaign needs to take place before you preclude children," she said.
Health officials said they would work with the school system on a school-by-school basis. "We have worked very vigorously to stop the continuing problem," said Ron Lewis, senior deputy director for health promotion with the Department of Health. He added that a large number of children were partially immunized, and only needed a few shots to reach full immunization status.
Currently, students in the District are required to receive shots for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis B and flu.
The school system and the Department of Health have been holding clinics around the city since summer for free immunizations, and school administration officials promised more in the next two months. Parents of children who have not been immunized also would receive letters, they said.
"We want to take a proactive step," said Ralph Neal, assistant superintendent for student and school support services. "We want parents to go to their private doctors, free clinics and get their children immunized."
Authorized school nurses also could provide immunization, he said, adding that clinics for free vaccines would be set up at 12 elementary schools starting Monday.
Mr. Neal said that while the school system had the power to exclude students, the problem was not something it could deal with on its own. "We need support from the mayor, from [Chief Health Officer] Dr. [Ivan C.] Walks, the council and from parents," he said.
Board member Laura Gardner suggested enlisting the aid of faith groups in the project. "We need to reverse this sad situation," she said, adding that clinics could be set up at places where parents and children go together, such as churches.
Meanwhile, the board on Thursday also voted to cut seven school days and money from special education and the summer school program to reconcile the fiscal 2002 budget.
Through the cuts the school board managed to reach its target of saving $26.1 million in this year's budget as a precautionary measure after the school system overspent $80 million last year. Another $17.3 million was saved annually when the board voted at an earlier meeting to cut 151 jobs in central administration.
The seven-day furlough is expected to save the school system $9.8 million, while another $5 million would be saved by cutting transportation costs. Summer school lost $5.7 million from its funding, while $3 million was cut from special education.
Board members said the cuts were painful, but necessary given the funding crunch. "It is outrageous that the mayor and the council look to us to make this awful bargain," said Roger Wilkins, at-large board member. "The board will not go along with any political agreement that continues to shortchange the children in our city," he said.

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