City school and health officials have set Friday as the deadline for an estimated 1,500 children who have missed a month of school to return with proof they have obtained immunizations -- or their parents will risk fines and possibly jail.
Yesterday, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy agreed to prosecute the parents or guardians using the state compulsory school attendance law. Conviction carries a possible maximum jail term of 10 days or fines of $50 a day for every day missed.
Some of the students have missed classes since Sept. 7, the day they were sent home because they had not obtained state-required vaccinations for polio, diphtheria, measles and other communicable diseases, said city Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson.
Education and health officials first must locate the students, whose school records indicate they have been absent and have not had their shots, he said.
Some families may have transferred their children or moved without notifying the school system. Others may not have received warning letters, which listed locations where the vaccinations are available at no cost.
"We will only consider prosecuting in the most egregious cases, and we'll start with the ones that have had plenty of notice and whose children are missing most or all of their health vaccinations," Dr. Beilenson said. "It's a last resort."
Beginning next week, nurses will offer immunizations at every elementary school, targeting especially children who need a measles, mumps and rubella booster shot.
A second group of students who need immunizations, about 5,000 students who were sent home from school Sept. 27, do not yet face penalties, Dr. Beilenson said.
Both groups of students were targets this year of a citywide campaign to enforce state immunization laws and to update health records in Baltimore schools, which had been allowed to fall out of date.