Baltimore Sun’s BEST party in 2 weeks

Some schools let in those lacking shots Health officials press principals to bar students; 'Punishing' children; Despite deadline yesterday, about 9,700 not immunized


Spot checks this week have revealed that some city schools are not fully enforcing a state law that requires them to bar children who are not immunized, health officials said yesterday.

Even at schools that are making enforcement efforts, health oficals who visited several schools yesterday found, some students who should have been sent home were marked present. This discovery comes as city schools prepare today to turn away about 8,600 children who were given until yesterday to get shots, said city Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson.

In total, 9,700 students lack immunization, mostly boosters for measles, mumps and rubella, he said. The number includes 1,100 students who had until Sept. 6 to get shots and had been barred earlier.

While parents are most responsible, Dr. Beilenson said, "The lesson here is that individual principals can bring a lot of influence to bear."

Eighteen schools have perfect records, he said. Some schools also reported computer discrepancies and enrollment confusion in cases where children had moved or switched schools.

Yesterday, Dr. Beilenson paid an unannounced visit to Harlem Park Middle School, where 411 of about 1,400 enrolled students yesterday still had not obtained shots. The school has cut in half its original caseload of 800, he said, but as of yesterday had the worst compliance of all city schools.

Assistant Principal Vivian Castain said the compliance is particularly poor among the students who lack a strong parental influence. The school has a clinic, but cannot administer shots unless guardians sign permission slips and many have not, added Margaret Failla, the clinic's nurse practitioner.

As Dr. Beilenson called out random student identification numbers, Ms. Castain checked computerized attendance rolls. Of 10 students who were supposed to be barred Sept. 6, one was in class yesterday, although the records showed she lacked two diphtheria, three polio and one measles shots. One was absent yesterday, but had been in earlier.

"If you keep accepting them, it's going to be difficult for us if we try to seek legal action against the parents," he warned.

Dr. Beilenson found a few additional cases of students who should have been excluded at Garrett Heights Elementary, which, with 55 students who were barred as of Sept. 6, is among the elementary schools with poor records.

Some parents drop children at the school and drive away, then fail to return to get them when the school calls, said Principal Yetty Kearney. When she can't reach a relative or guardian, she holds the child all day in her office because she can't release a child unescorted into the streets, she said.

Children who are told that they're supposed to be out "cry when we tell them they have to go home because they haven't had the shots," Ms. Kearney said. "Sometimes, I feel we are punishing them instead of the parents, who are really responsible."

The schools are for the most part enforcing the law, said Mary Nicholsonne, associate superintendent for instruction and the school system's coordinator for the health crackdown.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad