Parents face jail for not vaccinating their kids
Maryland officials frustrated by lack of compliance with immunization policy
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - Scores of grumbling parents facing a threat of jail lined up at a courthouse Saturday to either prove that their school-age kids already had their required vaccinations or see that the youngsters submitted to the needle.
The get-tough policy in the Washington suburbs of Prince George’s County was one of the strongest efforts made by any U.S. school system to ensure its youngsters receive their required immunizations.
Two months into the school year, school officials realized that more than 2,000 students in the county still didn’t have the vaccinations they were supposed to have before attending class.
Story continues below ↓advertisement
So Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols ordered parents in a letter to appear at the courthouse Saturday and either get their children vaccinated on the spot or risk up to 10 days in jail. They could also provide proof of vaccination or an explanation why their kids didn’t have them.
By about 8:30 a.m., the line of parents stretched outside the courthouse in the county on the east side of Washington.
Parents decry paperwork problems
Many of them complained that their children already were properly immunized but the school system had misplaced the records. They said efforts to get the paperwork straightened out had been futile.
“It was very intimidating,” Territa Wooden of Largo said of the letter. She said she presented the paperwork at the courthouse Saturday and resolved the matter.
“I could be home asleep. My son had his shots,” said Veinell Dickens of Upper Marlboro, who also blamed errant paperwork.
Aloma Martin of Fort Washington brought her children, Delontay and Taron, in 10th and 6th grade, for their hepatitis shots. She said she had been trying to get the vaccinations for more than a month, since the school system sent a warning letter. She had an appointment for Monday, but came to the courthouse to be safe.
Click for related content
Vote: Should parents face jail for not vaccinating their kids?
Killer at college: Meningitis threatens students
Bratty or behavior disorder? Help for parents
“It was very heavy handed,” she said of the county’s action. “From that letter, it sounded like they were going to start putting us in jail.”
School officials deemed the court action a success. School system spokesman John White said the number of children lacking vaccinations dropped from 2,300 at the time the judge sent the letter to about 1,100 Friday.
900 kids still out of compliance
After Saturday’s session, 172 more students were brought into compliance, including 101 students who received vaccinations at the courthouse and 71 whose records were updated.
That still left more than 900 students out of compliance with vaccination requirements, White said.
“Obviously, we still have some more work to do,” he said.
Are your child's shots up-to-date?
Any children who still lack immunizations could be expelled. Their parents could then be brought up on truancy charges, which can result in a 10-day jail sentence for a first offense and 30 days for a second.
Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey couldn’t say Saturday whether he would prosecute parents who fail to comply.
“We have to sit down with school and health services,” he said. “We haven’t ruled anything out. We need to figure out where we stand.”
White said the school system, with about 132,000 students, has been trying for two years to get parents to comply with state law. That law allows children to skip vaccines if they have a medical or religious exemption. It was unclear how many medical or religious exemptions were involved.
Critics demonstrate outside courthouse
Maryland, like all states, requires children to be immunized against several childhood illnesses including polio, mumps and measles. In recent years, it also has required that students up to high school age be vaccinated against hepatitis B and chicken pox.
Nichols said nobody actually came before him Saturday, but he was there if any parent asked to see him.
The judge noted the unhappy looks of some of the kids in line waiting for vaccinations.
“It’s cute. It looks like their parents are dragging them to church,” Nichols said.
Several organizations opposed to mass vaccinations demonstrated outside the courthouse. While the medical consensus is that vaccines are safe and effective, some people blame immunizations for a rise in autism and other medical problems.
“People should have a choice” in getting their children immunized, said Charles Frohman, representing a physicians’ group opposed to vaccines.
Get Kids Vaccinated Or Else, Parents Told
Pr. George's Threatens Legal Action
By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2007; Page B01
The parents of more than 2,300 Prince George's County students who failed to get needed vaccinations could face fines of $50 a day and up to 10 days in jail if their children do not meet the state's immunization requirements, county officials said yesterday.
The threat of legal action is a last resort after months in which Prince George's has struggled to get its 131,000 students immunized for chicken pox and hepatitis B, as mandated by the state. More than 2,300 students have not been immunized and have been barred from attending schools, almost two months after a Sept. 20 deadline for meeting the requirement.
"We can do this the easy way or the hard way, but it's got to get done," Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) said at a news conference in Upper Marlboro. "I'm willing to move forward with legal action."
School officials have made calls, sent letters and conducted home visits to make arrangements for free appointments for the needed shots. But often the students' addresses and phone numbers have been outdated, making contacting them difficult. Other students have received the vaccines but failed to get the necessary booster shots.
The school system turned to the justice system as a final option and received the backing of Circuit Judge William D. Missouri, the county's administrative judge, and Circuit Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr., who handles juvenile matters.
"This is an educational crisis," said R. Owen Johnson Jr., chairman of the school board. "This is a public health and a children's rights issue."
Nichols and Ivey sent another round of letters to the families still out of compliance. Nichols's letter ordered the parents to show up at Prince George's Circuit Court for a court hearing and a free vaccine; Ivey's letter warned that "unexcused absences by your child may subject you to a criminal charge."
They expect almost 1,700 children to show up Saturday with their parents for the first in a series of Circuit Court hearings on the matter. School officials said the parents would receive a verbal reprimand from the judge and be ordered to have their children immunized in the courthouse. The students would then be allowed to return to school.
Parents who do not appear could face fines of $50 for each day they fail to get their children immunized after being charged. They also could serve up to 10 days in jail. Ivey said he hoped charging parents would not be necessary.
"The goal is to get kids in school, not to put parents in jail," Ivey said.
Missouri said he looked forward to talking to the parents who had not gotten their children immunized, to understand why.
"I'd like to know exactly what the reasons are because the reasons may be able to be addressed without ratcheting it up to this point," he said.
Schools officials said they were sorry the crisis had gone this far, but that it needed to be solved immediately.
"This has really, really been a difficult time for us," said Betty Despenza-Green, the school system's chief of student services. "It hurts us when any child is out of school because he needs to be immunized, and so we felt we needed to be creative. We need those students immunized. We need them in schools."
|<< 前記事(2007/11/17)||ブログのトップへ||後記事(2007/11/18) >>|
|<< 前記事(2007/11/17)||ブログのトップへ||後記事(2007/11/18) >>|