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Student vaccination policy in U-46 to stay by default

By Seth Hancock
  A first-day exclusion in School District U-46 for students who are not current on their vaccinations will continue by default as the Board of Education was unable to approve an update to Board Policy 7 at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 18.
  The U-46 policy under sections 7.100 and 7.102 already included the first-day exemption and that exemption remained the same under the proposed edits to the sections, but the vote on the updated version was 3-3 with board members Phil Costello, Veronica Noland and Jeanette Ward all voting no because they oppose the first-day exclusion. Board member Traci Ellis was absent, and the 3-3 tie means the no’s prevailed.
  In November, the same three members who voted no suggested changing the exclusion date so the district was not overly rigid as compared to state requirements. State law provides for district’s to set a date when students who are not vaccinated must be kept out of class any time up to Oct. 15 of a given school year.
  Board member Melissa Owens chaired the last committee meeting regarding the policy and said the “consensus… was to maintain the first day exclusion” between her, Ellis and board member Sue Kerr who all attended that meeting.
  Owens said she looked at some surrounding districts and found that among seven districts, five had a first-day exclusion and two had an Oct. 15 exclusion and “most of them have looked at this policy during this calendar year.”
  “What we were really looking at was the percentage of students that were excluded to see how impactful that was on a district,” Owens said.
  In November, the administration gave numbers on how many students were excluded this year on the first day. Owens said 1.8 percent of students were not compliant on the first day, and that dropped to under 0.5 percent a week later. The average number of days missed for students excluded according to the administration was 2.138 days.
  “We’re looking at a relatively small number of students,” said Owens who suggested it is “less disruptive” for students to be excluded from class during the first week of school than if they missed class later in the year.
  Costello asked Owens what she meant by “disruptive.” Costello has suggested that attending the first day of class is important for setting a standard for students to be in class every day and said studies he’s seen have stated the same.
  Owens said that classes are deeper into content later in the school year as opposed to the first day making it more disruptive if students are excluded later in the school year.
  However, Costello suggested that if the district got off of the first-day exclusion it would give families more time to get vaccinations which could mean no disruption at all. He said he was opposed to going to Oct. 15 but suggested at least a week later.
  “Giving them an extra few days they could get that appointment and not miss any days,” Costello said.
  Noland suggested the same saying “I believe one extra week… would be very helpful” for families that may not be engaged and communicating with the district until that first day of class.
  “I just am against this first-day exclusion,” said Noland who added: “I don’t think one week is too much to ask.”
  Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said the administration would be more proactive this spring in communicating with parents to prepare for the 2018-19 school year and it would target the sixth grade, which saw the highest number of non-compliant students, as well as specific schools with high numbers. She also said students who are not compliant on the first day but have proof of an appointment to be vaccinated are allowed to attend.
  Ward supports the Oct. 15 date saying she wants U-46 to be “no more stringent than the state,” and she also is philosophically opposed to the vaccination requirement.
  “I think that parents are the ones who ought to be making the decision whether or not to immunize their children,” Ward said. “It should be their decision.”
  Owens said there were changes to the policy to clean up language and U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said “we would certainly like to have guidance” meaning the policy will likely have to go back to committee.
  Donna Smith, the board’s president, said it may not have to go back to committee if a motion to reconsider is made at a future meeting, but Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer, said that “can only be brought up by the prevailing side” meaning Costello, Noland and Ward can only make such a motion. “If that doesn’t happen, the policy will remain as is,” Rodriguez added.
  Last May, Sanders said “the board has always had a policy that says we exclude students on the first day of school” but the current 2017-18 school year was the first time that policy has been enforced..



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