The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 wrestles with its vaccination restrictions
By Seth Hancock
School District U-46 may loosen its first day exemption restrictions regarding vaccinations but will likely remain stricter than the state standard as the Board of Education discussed its policy on Monday, Nov. 6.
Currently the state requires all students, except those with religious or medical exemptions, to be vaccinated by Oct. 15 of a given school year or be denied access to school, but U-46’s policy is stricter with students being required to be vaccinated by the first day of school, which was Aug. 16 this year and Aug. 23 for preschool. The U-46 policies are under sections 7.100 and 7.102.
Back in May, U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said “the board has always had a policy that says we exclude students on the first day of school” but this was the first school year the policy was going to be enforced.
The district, which increased communication over the summer to prepare for actually following the policy this year, collected data and presented it to the board.
The data showed that there were 711 students whose parents or guardians were notified of not being in compliance on Aug. 16, and through Aug. 23 there were 178 students actually excluded from attending. The district’s compliance average was 98.8 percent, and all schools were above the 90 percent compliance required by the state.
Board members Veronica Noland and Jeanette Ward both said they would like to see the board’s policy align with the state requirement of Oct. 15 as Ward said “I want to change the policy to mirror what the state requires so we are not more stringent than the state” and Noland saying “I don’t know that we have to be so rigid to exclude students from school on the first day.”
“I struggle with this one because on the public health side and that hat I get why we do this, but on the other side of working with families and knowing how difficult it is for families to get information over the summer time and how difficult for many of our families it is to simply comply for so many reasons…. I struggle with continuing with this first day exclusion,” Noland added.
After a board discussion, the majority appeared fine with the first day exemption but open to loosening the restriction slightly for around a week after classes start. Another committee meeting will be held to hash out the details.
Jeff Judge, the district’s health services supervisor, said “provisions were made” and waivers were applied for to allow as many students to attend class despite not being compliant on the first day. The average number of school days missed by those students who were excluded was 2.138 according to the district data.
Sanders suggested that if the policy were changed to the Oct. 15 date, students who were excluded from class at that time would miss more important class time as classes would be “deeper into the content with curriculum” than the first day.
Noland said “I wouldn’t make that assumption” that there would be many students non-compliant as the later date leaves more time to communicate with parents and guardians, and that communication would more easily be received as students are already attending classes.
Board member Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr, Melissa Owens and Donna Smith all said they supported continuing with the first day exemption but said they were “flexible.” Board member Phil Costello said “I really don’t like the Oct. 15, waiting for that date” but also said he would like to see a looser standard than the first day exemption.
Owens said “we’re immunizing people for herd immunity,” which is the idea that those who are not vaccinated will still be protected if others are vaccinated. Noland said “I understand herd immunity, I support it” but noted that there are still going to be non-compliant students regardless of when the board sets the date in its policy.
Judge suggested there is never 100 percent compliance noting the state minimum is 90 percent saying “compliance is a constant struggle that we work with all the time” and currently “we do not have students who are excluded, but there’s a difference between being excluding and completely compliant or fully immunized.”
Ward said “it’s a philosophical reason for me” and “I did vaccinate my children” but “I think it ought to be up to parents to decide whether their children are vaccinated, yes or no, which is why I wanted to move this back to Oct. 15.”
“People who believe my body my choice, I think parents ought to have the freedom to decide that for their children,” Ward said.