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Seventh graders without proof of vaccinations to be turned away from school

Time is running out for nearly half of Washington County’s seventh graders as Tennessee’s new mandatory immunization law is sending parents and school leaders into a tailspin.
According to a state law passed on July 1, all seventh-graders must turn in paperwork proving they have had the shots for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis — the “Tdap” vaccine — by Friday, Oct. 1.
They must also show that they are immune to chicken pox, either by having had the disease or the required two doses of the Varicella vaccine.
According to Washington County Schools’ Nursing Supervisor Kathy Loyd, 350 students in the seventh grade currently lack the proper documentation of their vaccinations.
Not having that proof will result in children being denied admission to school beginning Friday, according to Director of Schools Ron Dykes and Shannon Bishop, coordinator for Washington County Schools Coordinated Health.
Students that have yet to hand in the vaccination paperwork will be sent home and their absences will be counted as unexcused, Bishop said.
“The student will not be allowed to return until the required materials have been submitted to the school,” Bishop said, adding that letters outlining the requirements and the consequences went out Monday to the parents of the deficient students.
“Legally, we must adhere to that, but we will work with the parents every way we can,” Dykes said. “We’ll take the circumstances surrounding the absences under consideration at the end of the year, but after five (absences), we’ll put pressure on the parents because the court system can be involved after 10 days of absence.
“We hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Several attempts have been made by the school system to let students and their families know about the new requirement.
“All students entering the seventh grade received a letter in the spring and again in the fall detailing what was required,” Loyd said. “Then, after the last of those two letters went out, we started reviewing the records and those students who still had deficiencies were mailed a third letter. In many cases, school nurses even made calls to the home. And we have it on our website.”
Loyd said she believes many of the students whose paperwork has not been submitted have, in fact, received the necessary vaccinations, but have failed to submit proof on the appropriate form.
The vaccination proof must be turned in on a specific form — a Tennessee Deaprtment of Health Certificate of Immunization — which has not been the case in the past.
Loyd said that change may have caused confusion for both doctors and parents.
“(The form) has to be downloaded from the Tennessee Department of Health at the doctor’s office,” Loyd said. “I think that a lot of people don’t realize that.”
Families who use the services of the Washington County Health Department will automatically have their vaccination records in the proper format.