Should kids who aren't vaccinated be barred from school?
by Michele Zipp
There are varying policies in place regarding a child's vaccinations and school. Parents aren't all going to agree on this -- as we are all aware vaccines are a hot topic and have been a trigger for many a heated debate. It's still a subject that must be addressed, and there is a way to do it in which we respect other people's beliefs and views. But with all the variables involved, the topic of vax or no vax ends up with mostly everyone feeling frustrated. And the frustration is only going to grow if more places follow New York City's stance to ban unvaccinated students during illnesses or outbreaks.
This seems like the right thing to do. Until you learn that this ruling meant that three children were barred from attending school because other kids had chickenpox.
The problem with rules is that there are often exceptions. I believe this is such a case. If there is a case or cases of chickenpox in a school, and another child is not immunized against varicella, it should be up to the parents whether or not to allow that child to attend school during the contagious period. Chickenpox is often mild. Yes, there are always exceptions. But if it was something more serious like measles, then the unvaccinated kids should be asked to stay home to prevent the further spread, and only until after the incubation period is over. And schools should accommodate this and not penalize the child during this time.
These kind of events are rare -- and hopefully they stay that way. But a child should never be made to feel ostracized because of their beliefs, and that includes beliefs on vaccinations. The parents of two of the children who were banned are suing, citing they were denied their First Amendment right to religious freedom and their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law, along with some other claims. The third parent, Dina Check, is suing because she says the city denied her 7-year-old a religious exemption. Ms. Check ended up homeschooling her daughter before enrolling her in a private school that allowed her in without being vaccinated.
This is where it gets tricky. When a child is barred from school due to something like this, and so much school is missed (up to a month, which is problematic for a student), it means missing lessons and tests, and also the child is going to feel like he or she is under quarantine. The child is not contagious -- she's just unvaccinated. Should the child be placed in another school with a similar curriculum during the contagious period? Should any child be barred for something such as chickenpox in the first place? Every child deserves the right to a free education.
In 2012, a student at the Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz, New York, contracted measles while on a trip to Europe. Eighty kids were sent home out of the 147 who attended the private school at that time. They returned if they were immunized or they waited until the contagious period was over provided there were no more cases. Luckily, there weren't and the child who had measles recovered. This case makes sense. There weren't any protests or parents suing the school here -- everyone worked together for the safety of the children and the health of the community and the school adjusted for the missed days. New York City schools -- many public schools -- don't seem willing to work things out like this. There are too many boxes to check, too many students to usher through, too many strict rules without exceptions. Perhaps, even, and this is nationwide, there is too much of a fear of unvaccinated kids. Schools are probably worried about being sued if a no vax kid contracts something and spreads it to others in the school.
I still believe the decision to vaccinate or not should stay with the parents. However, if that child is going to be attending a public school funded by the government, we have to expect things like this. But we still have to honor every child's right to an education. And with many parents choosing to forgo vaccinations, this may be an issue we see more of. More judge rulings. More lawsuits.
What do you think? Should kids who aren't vaccinated be barred from school? Should it be only during serious outbreaks? What do you think of the kids banned when other kids in school had chickenpox?
Image via NHS Employees/Flickr