A Maryland school district has ordered parents of more than 2,300 students to court Saturday for failure to immunize their children. The parents could face fines and jail time if they do not appear.
The students, in grades five through 10, will be required to report to court with their parents. While students can expect to be vaccinated before they leave the courthouse, parents will be lectured to by Circuit Court Judge Philip Nichols Jr. on the necessity of vaccination. Those who fail to appear face fines of $50 a day and up to 10 days in jail.
According to Prince George's County Schools spokesman John White, the students were required to receive two shots before Sept. 20: one for hepatitis B and the other for the chickenpox. Parents who did not meet the deadline for both shots were asked not to bring their children to school until they were immunized or provided proof of an immunization appointment.
White said students still continue to show up at school without having received the shots or providing proof of an appointment. The parents were also asked to sign a consent form allowing the schools to provide the necessary vaccinations, White said.
"This shows you how redundant our attempts have been. In many cases kids still have to come to school, and when they come to pick their child up, they are asked if they could sign the consent, and in some cases they don't sign it," said White.
According to Prince George's County Schools, neglecting to have a child vaccinated is not the norm. Out of 132,000 students in the county school system, 2,300 students have been tardy in meeting the immunization deadline. "The majority of parents have done the right thing," said White.
Despite discrepancies in state immunization laws, the nationwide vaccination rate is approximately 95 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says that on the whole, "we're doing a very good job vaccinating children."
"We vaccinate infants and insist that children be vaccinated before they attend day care and kindergarten. So, by the time they enter kindergarten, more than 90 percent of the children are well-vaccinated against a whole spectrum of communicable diseases," said Schaffner.
According to Schaffner, the responsibility to vaccinate children lies on the shoulders of the parents.
"When we bring children into the world, responsibilities go with that. These parents have had ample opportunities. The vaccine is available. They could have organized to do this. So shame on them," he said.
Circuit Court Judge Philip Nichols Jr. was asked by the school board to send out the letters to the parents ordering them to court. With the help of the school district and the county health board, the Circuit Court gathered all the tools necessary to immunize all the children Saturday. The plan is to get the students back in school.
"They asked me to ask everybody who has a child who isn't going to school to explain to them how important it is to go to school," Nichols explained.
Nichols said that by working with the school board on this issue, he hopes it will teach the students lifelong lessons about the importance of staying in school and the importance of preventing bad habits -- the kind that would send them back to the courts -- from forming.
"It is a lot of kids not going to school for something that is easy to fix," Nichols said.