Education

Shelter Island Board of Education re-ups immunization policy

In line with state requirements enacted in 2019, the Board of Education continued its policy of requiring that students present proof of immunizations in order to attend classes.

The policy adopted earlier this month allows for medical exemptions if a state-licensed physician determines if immunizations could be detrimental to a student’s health. That exemption must be renewed annually.

The state legislation eliminated the ability of a parent to exempt children from the required vaccinations for religious reasons.

If a student without a valid medical exemption fails to be immunized, that student can’t remain at school for more than 14 days, or more than 30 days if that student is a transfer from out of state or another country. 

In line with the state policy, when a student is refused admission to the school because of a lack of required immunizations, the school nurse is required to:

• Notify the parent or guardian of his or her responsibility to have the child immunized and to provide public resources available to facilitating the necessary immunizations.

• Notify a local health authority of the identity and address of the student and information on what immunizations the student lacks.

• Provide a local health authority with a time and place at which required immunizations could be administered.

A homeless student lacking immunizations will be referred to a liaison who handles such situations and that person will assist in obtaining the required immunizations or medical records.

When the state policy became a reality for Island parents, several attended a Board of Education meeting in 2019 arguing that they objected to any requirement to have their children vaccinated.

Their arguments generally weren’t in relationship to medical issues that could exempt their children from getting the vaccinations. To require that they have vaccinations, the parents believed, could be detrimental to their children’s health, and prompted them to try to overturn the district’s endorsement of the state policy.

Required immunizations under the law are for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, Varicella and meningococcal.

Preschool students must have vaccinations to avoid diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type B and pneumococcal disease.

School officials at the time had initially taken steps to fight the state law, but Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.,D., and School Nurse Mary Kanarvogel would have faced heavy fines if they violated the state policy.

In 2015, Ms. Kanarvogel said immunizations are “an important public health issue.” At that time, there had been an increase in cases of measles.

But the issue for some parents came from a report much earlier that some vaccinations were causing autism. That has since been proven false, but some continue to dispute the findings. While none of the Shelter Island parents in 2019 cited that as a reason for not having their children vaccinated, one parent told the Board of Education that it was not so long ago that health experts disputed that tobacco posed any health danger.

As it played out in 2019, most students received vaccinations and entered the school with no problems, according to Mr. Doelger. There were no cases where a student had to be stopped at the school entrance, Mr. Doelger said.