Waiver period for student immunizations tightened

By Saxon Daugherty  Staff Writer

The grace period for Pennsylvania students in kindergarten through 12th grade to comply with immunization requirements will be drastically shortened for the upcoming school year.

The current provisional waiver of eight months for schoolchildren to be fully immunized will be reduced to a five-day window after the start of the new school year as a result of changes made by the Department of Health.

Under the adjusted policy, all students must obtain the next or final dose within that five-day period or risk being excluded from school.

The new regulations will take effect Aug. 1. All school districts throughout the commonwealth will be required to implement them for the 2017-18 school year.

Students will be permitted to attend school provisionally beyond the five days if he or she submits a medical certificate from a health care provider outlining the dates for additional vaccination.

In Forest Area School District, nurse Krista Wright said she has been preparing a letter that will be sent to parents that will outline the changes, plus an automated message will be released districtwide.

Wright said plans are in place to also send personalized letters to each family that lists vaccinations needed for each student.

“There will be no surprises,” Wright said.

The first day of school for Forest Area Schools will be Aug. 29, and all students must be up to date by Sept. 6, otherwise they will not be permitted to attend school.

Amanda Hetrick, superintendent of Forest Area School District, said homeless student regulations will still have to be followed if that circumstance arises.

The district would be required to take the student in and assist them in getting the necessary vaccinations.

“I think it will be a very smooth process, though,” Wright said. “We have a very good system for notifying parents … We have been very fortunate, being small, we rarely have had an issue.”

“I have confidence in our school nurses in doing an excellent job in reaching out to the parents and community,” Hetrick said. “We want them to be here and we want them to be healthy.”

Oil City Area School District Superintendent Pat Gavin said the district is still in the process of determining the best way to notify parents of the changes. One option would be to invite parents during orientations to talk about the logistics.

“We have been talking with our health committee, as well as through the nurse’s office, about our tentative plans,” Gavin said. “I think our staff is prepared. We are ready for it and we are on top of it.”

Gavin said he anticipates some snags in the system in regard to parents because “some are already behind the eight ball.”

Even with the current eight-month grace period, Gavin said there have been cases where students were not allowed to come to school.

“The first time we exclude 20 elementary kids, we are going to get questions,” Gavin said.

Valley Grove students will be notified of the changes in the Kindergarten Jump Start Program in summer and through transportation information that is sent to families, according to Superintendent Kevin Briggs.

Parents in the Franklin School District will be notified of the changes at kindergarten registration this month, Superintendent Pamela Dye. The district is also planning to post information on its website, she said.

Cranberry School District did not comment on the issue Friday.

Other changes to the state’s immunization requirements include:

  -Students must now have one additional dose of meningococcal vaccine before entering 12th grade.

  -The number of doses for polio has increased from three to four (fourth dose on or after the fourth birthday and at least six months after the previous dose).

  -In the case of a multidose vaccine, a child must have at least one dose upon school entry or risk exclusion.

Additional details can be found on the state Department of Health’s website – www.health.pa.gov.

Department of Health branches can be contacted to schedule vaccinations.

Contact information for two local offices are: Venango County, 677-0672; Clarion County, 226-2170.