Parents in the Spokane, Washington, school district were warned this day would come. And now the school district has kept its promise to pull all students from class who aren’t compliant with state vaccination laws.
As of Monday, nearly 1,000 students who either did not submit records proving their shots were current or did not sign an exemption waiver were expelled, Spokane school district spokesman Kevin Morrison told ABC News, adding that the numbers are not yet available for today.
Morrison said the school district had been calling and emailing parents since February to let them know about the upcoming expulsions. To help parents get their kids up to date and return to the classroom, the school district has been holding free vaccination clinics in various public schools, Morrison said. They also have made exemption waivers readily available for parents who don’t want their kids to get the shots, he said.
“This is about mandatory compliance with the law, not mandatory vaccination,” Morrison said, adding that in March parents received one final warning sent by certified mail.
Jim Young had to leave work to take his young son to one of the clinics after receiving a call Monday that his child had been removed from class. He immediately took his child to the school’s clinic so he could return to school, he said.
“Yeah, I got calls saying that they hadn’t got records yet,” he told ABC News affiliate KXLY in Spokane. “I showed up and they said if I come down here [to the clinic] and he can be done so I said ‘fine.’”
When the school leadership reviewed the district’s vaccination records early in the year, they found nearly 6 percent of the population – about 5,000 students – did not have complete vaccination records, Morrison said. Thanks to a relentless education campaign, Morrison said by the time Monday came only 922 students were missing records.
One day after removing 143 kids from the classrooms, combined with those who complied on their own, that number has already been cut in half, he said.
Washington State has one of the highest vaccination exemption rates in the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records show. Nearly 5 percent of kindergartners opt out of at least one required vaccination. Spokane County’s rate is around 9 percent, more than triple its 1997 rate, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
While Spokane has not had any measles cases in the past several years, it did have a smattering of whooping cough cases last year. The minor outbreak was worrisome enough to prompt the school district officials to get their records in order, Morrison said.
In the event of a widespread outbreak, unvaccinated children will be asked to stay home from school for at least 21 days, Morrison said. This is a legal requirement in Washington and many other states, he pointed out.
“I want to thank our leadership for taking a real strong stand on this,” Morrison said. “We really needed a wakeup call to make sure if something did happen we are as prepared for it as we can be.”