- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

Parents of 681 public school students in the District who have failed to have their children immunized will face truancy charges in D.C. Superior Court.

Today, D.C. public school principals will begin preparing Truancy Court referrals and mailing them home to parents who have not had their children immunized or produced up-to-date immunization records. On Monday, school officials will hand over the documents to the court.

"Parents need to step up to the plate. We have the support of the community," said Ralph Neal, D.C. assistant superintendent who oversees the immunization program.

"We want students in school and in compliance with the law. We can't educate children if they are subject to communicable diseases," Mr. Neal said.

Last year, the D.C. school board ruled that all D.C. public school students had to be immunized by Jan. 25, 2001 or they would not be permitted to attend classes.

"The Board of Education is committed to getting every child in [D.C. public schools] immunized. Though it is not our goal to exclude students from school, it is our responsibility, according to the D.C. Code, to make sure that our students are healthy and ready to learn," said Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

Since August, the D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Department of Human Services, along with roving leaders from the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, have been making home visits to find out why children have not been immunized. City workers have tried to lend a helping hand and give parents an assist in getting their children immunized.

"That's the reason why we have had over 50 clinics [open] during the months of June, July, August and September," said Mr. Neal.

Mr. Neal said letters were mailed to parents over the summer and in September alerting them that their children were not in compliance and would not be permitted to enroll in school. On Sept. 3 the first day of school in the District 6,600 children were out of compliance, he said.

Those students not in compliance are not allowed to attend classes and are kept in a specially designated areas until parents come to pick them up from school. At that point, parents are directed to the nearest health clinic.

This procedure will continue until all affected students are inoculated or their parents provide proof of immunization.

"Today, 681 children are not in compliance and those 681 children are not in school. That's 14 days they have missed from school. Being absent from school for 14 days constitutes truancy and neglect," Mr. Neal said.

"According to the compulsory school attendance law, parents and guardians who fail to have their children attend school are subject to the following: truancy charges may be filed against the student [and] the parents; neglect charges may be filed against parents; parents may be fined; parents may be jailed," he said.

Based on the law, he said, if students are not in school on Monday, then the D.C. Public Schools system will move [the matter] on to Superior Court.

"What happens from there is up to the corporation counsel and the judges," Mr. Neal said.

Senior high schools have the highest number of students, with 486 needing to be immunized, while 136 middle school and junior high school students are not in compliance.

In elementary schools' three divisions, a total of 38 are not in compliance and 21 students from transformation schools are still left to be immunized.

Mr. Neal urged parents to do the right thing.

"We've done all we can do. Parents need to make sure their children are in compliance," he said.

Parents can take their children to the Department of Health Immunizations Program at 1131 Spring Road in Northwest.

The center is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday for free immunizations.

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