ONTARIO — For Oregon students in public schools whose parents have not signed a waiver, there is a cutoff date — Feb. 19 for the 2019-20 school year, according to the Oregon Health Authority — by which they must be up-to-date on vaccinations. State law requires schools to send students home who are not up to date by what is dubbed Exclusion Day.
Each year in the Ontario School District, there are a handful of children who will get sent home until their immunizations are current, according to Melissa Williams, director of instruction and student services for the district.
As of Wednesday morning, 113 students throughout the district had at least one shot missing, Williams said.
School officials work throughout the year to bring this number down before the cutoff date. During parent-teacher conferences, she said, the district typically has a practice of notifying families if students are missing any vaccinations.
Officials stepped up efforts this year and for the first time ever are offering an immunization clinic during this week’s parent-teacher conferences. These began at schools throughout the district Wednesday and go from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, with breaks for lunch and dinner.
“This is our effort to hopefully not have to check, re-check and keep hounding people to get it done,” Williams said. “We are hoping to make it more convenient for them on a day they may be taking time of anyway [to attend conferences].”
Officials were brainstorming this year about how to reduce numbers before Exclusion Day in order to avoid disruption for students who have to miss time to meet the state law.
“We’re trying to give as much opportunities to parents as we can,” Williams said.
The immunization clinics, which are offered for all students, are being held in the health room at the Ontario Middle School.
According to Williams, Rebecca Stricker, RN at Malheur County Health Department and Director Sarah Poe “recently reached out to us to discuss additional ways that we could work together,” which is where the concept of such a clinic was born.
Williams said she has not heard of any other districts that are offering immunization clinics.
The school has partnered with the department for many years to contract its school nurse, Chris Thomas, Williams said.
“The MCHD recently obtained some equipment that allows for them to take vaccines outside of their clinic, so this year we will be working with them to offer vaccinations right at the school,” she said. “It is our hope that this will be convenient for our families and that it will help to eliminate some of the barriers (like taking time off work) that may exist for them to access this form of health care. Of course, we also hope it prevents any child from being excluded from school.”
As far as schools sending students home by the state cutoff date, Williams said, “we don’t have a choice.”
However, she added, it’s typically a pretty quick turnaround to get kids back in class once parents realize that.
Throughout the district as a whole, Ontario “doesn’t get a lot of pushback,” she said.
“Generally speaking our families are pretty cooperative. We have a few people who chose not to, but most are willing and some just don’t get around to it.”