- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

Thousands of D.C. public schools students still lack the inoculations they need to attend classes, and officials say they could soon consider action against parents whose children haven’t received the necessary shots.

“Certainly our priority is getting kids into school, not locking up parents,” said Peter Lavallee, spokesman for the D.C. Corporation Counsel, which monitors immunization rates along with the school system. “This early in the school year it could be counterproductive to do that.”

Mr. Lavallee said, however, that in a week or two D.C. public schools probably will start referring to his office parents whose children aren’t vaccinated. Under city law, those parents can be fined up to $100 and sentenced to five days in jail.

Administrators said they were confident most of the 2,898 students still missing shots as of 3 p.m. yesterday will be immunized by next week.

Most of those who hadn’t been immunized as of yesterday are high school students. There were 1,460 students in grades nine through 12 who had not had all their shots. In middle or junior high schools, 548 students still needed immunizations; 177 students in transformation schools had not gotten their shots; and 713 were out of compliance in elementary schools.

Ralph Neal, assistant superintendent for student support services, said school employees have been paying visits to the homes of parents whose children have not had their shots. After 10 days, he said, administrators will start preparing papers that could bring legal action against parents for their children’s truancy.

“We hope we can get it down to zero between now and next Friday,” he said. “We’ve been averaging about 500 to 600 a day, and hopefully with the events in the next two days, we will get it down tremendously over the weekend.”

The school system, the D.C. Department of Health, and the D.C. Housing Authority will immunize students free of charge from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today. There also will be refreshments and school-supply giveaways at the Housing Authority’s headquarters at 1133 North Capitol St. NE.

Students also can get their shots at the D.C. General Children’s Pediatric Ambulatory Care Center at 1900 Massachusetts Ave. SE from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. today. For information on these and other immunization events parents may call 800/666-2229.

The drive to get students immunized in the past month has been successful, said Marilyn Seabrooks of the D.C. Department of Health’s Maternal and Child Health Office. But she said schools need to begin educating youngsters about the importance of being checked by doctors and being current on shots. If students are taught on a regular basis about health, they can remind their parents, she said.

In the weeks leading up to the first day of school Tuesday, the system sent children to clinics around the city that provide free shots.

The number of students who have been unable to provide the proper shot documentation is declining. When the District kicked off its “No Shots … No School” effort in early August, an estimated 12,000 students had not been inoculated. After the first day of school Tuesday, about 5,600 of the system’s 67,000 students had not produced their up-to-date immunization records. D.C. law requires students to produce immunization records on the first day of classes.

Students must have shots for DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus), OPV (oral polio vaccine), MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), HIB (haemophilus influenza type B), HepB (hepatitis B), and varicella immunizations, if they have not had chicken pox.

School officials have said many students are missing only tetanus shots, because during a nationwide shortage of vaccine last year some inoculations were waived.

Three months after school started last year officials discovered that nearly 30,000 of the city’s 68,000 children in public schools had not been immunized and several city health clinics operated nonstop to administer shots. Nevertheless, more than 6,000 students failed to get the shots after being notified last year, and the D.C. Board of Education sent them home with 10 days’ worth of homework and a final warning.

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