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Hope School District Cleared to Exclude Unvaccinated Students in Case of Measles Outbreak

Public health departments can send unvaccinated children home from school in the event of a communicable disease outbreak, and the Hope Elementary School District board authorized its superintendent to take the same action if necessary.

Board members approved a 21-day exclusion from school for any unvaccinated students in the event of a potential measles outbreak, or anytime recommended by the Santa Barbara County Health Department, Superintendent Dan Cooperman said.

It will apply to all on-campus programs, even those that are leasing property and are run independently from the district.

“What happened is that parents are concerned about measles because it’s so easily spread and they’re concerned about students who are vaccinated and unvaccinated and the effect that has,” he said. “The board thought it’s better to be proactive and allow the district to send people home if the health department notifies us of a possible measles exposure.”

The current measles outbreak in California now has more than 100 cases, and most of those cases are linked back to the initial outbreak at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim.

Santa Barbara County's Public Health Department conducted a measles test on a child last month, which ended up being negative, and has reported no other potential cases. 

Measles is a highly infectious, airborne disease that typically begins with fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, and within a few days a red rash appears, usually first on the face and then spreading downward to the rest of the body, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The Public Health Department's ability to exclude students applies to all schools, which is outlined in the affidavit required to apply for a personal belief exemption. 

For the K-12 Santa Barbara Unified School District, all parents who submit a personal beliefs exemption to required immunizations sign an affidavit, provided by the state, that states: “I understand that an unimmunized student may be excluded from attending school or child care during an outbreak of, or after exposure to, any of these diseases for the protection of the student and others.”

There is no specific time frame given on the affidavit, but measles in particular has a 21-day incubation period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“We basically work very, very closely with the health department anytime we have any issue with a communicable disease such as pertussis, or in this case measles,” Santa Barbara district spokeswoman Barbara Keyani said. 

The Hope School District is also reviewing its immunization policies and plans to make some changes regarding on-campus leases. The updated policy would only allow leases on district property for a group of children that’s 85 percent vaccinated, including child care programs and school programs.

The 85 percent figure has no scientific basis; it was “a reasonable figure to ask of a potential lease partner,” Cooperman said.

It won’t impact existing uses, such as the The Waldorf School of Santa Barbara’s early childhood program housed on the Vieja Valley Elementary School campus.

“Waldorf has been a very good partner," Cooperman said. "There was a pertussis issue early in the year and they were very, very cooperative — they were transparent and kept us informed on what was being done, which allowed us to respond, too.”

There was a pertussis epidemic at Waldorf last fall when five students were diagnosed with pertussis, or whooping cough, within a two-week period in October, including students on the Vieja Valley campus.

For the current school year, only 53 percent of Waldorf’s Early Childhood students are fully immunized against pertussis, 16 percent are partially immunized and 31 percent are not immunized, Waldorf said in a statement at the time.

As Noozhawk has previously reported, Waldorf in 2013 had an 87 percent rate of opt-outs for vaccinations for kids entering kindergarten.

According to state data, Hope’s three schools have up-to-date vaccination rates between 74 and 87 percent for the 2014-15 year.

Since the fall, the Hope School District has been checking with parents regarding immunization records, Cooperman said. Children often complete the initial round of vaccinations, but the school didn’t always check back when the next round was due, so those show up as unvaccinated in state statistics, he said.

He said the district has been working with parents to address that.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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