Stevenson could hold students out of class for not showing vaccination paperwork – Chicago Tribune

A state law meant to protect students could leave 38 percent of Stevenson High School’s senior class “in danger of being turned away from school next month,” the school said in a statement sent to parents last week.

The law, which took effect earlier this year, requires that all sixth and 12th graders receive an immunization against the highly contagious bacteria that causes meningitis, then show documentation of the shot to their school by Oct. 15.

Stevenson spokesman Jim Conrey said Tuesday that this means that on Oct. 16, the school may hold unvaccinated children out of class.

Heading into the school year, Conrey said his school used just about every medium at its disposal to warn families about the changing law.

“We have been reminding current seniors and their parents about the new meningitis vaccine requirement since late spring,” Conrey said in an email last month. “We’ve sent notices to them through our weekly email newsletter…posted information on our website, and also put the word out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We also included information in the registration information that was provided for parents in June.”

Township High School District 214 took a harder stance: show proof of the vaccine by the start of the semester, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Delgado.

Delgado said Friday that on the first day of school, 56 of the district’s roughly 3,000 seniors were excluded from class for not having their meningitis vaccination. Most of them returned in the first week, she said, but as of Friday, three had still not returned.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meningitis bacteria are spread through saliva and spit — commonly through coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing cigarettes. Eight hundred to 1,500 cases of meningitis occur annually in the United States, the CDC reports. Up to 15 percent are fatal, the agency says, and survivors may lose arms or legs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous systems, become developmentally disabled, or suffer seizures or strokes.

Symptoms include fever, abdominal pain and full body infection, according to Dr. Asit Vora, a pediatrician affiliated with Advocate Children’s Hospital and Christ Medical Center, both in Oak Lawn.

“With the new immunization requirements, we are giving our children the best level of protection and immunity without exposing them to the serious complications of the disease,” Vora said.

After the measles infected several children at a KinderCare Learning Center in Palatine earlier this year, the student vaccination law began gaining steam in Springfield.

“In the past five years we have seen quite a few cases of vaccine-preventable diseases in children that have been either harmful or fatal,” said Dr. Vrinda Kumar, a pediatrician with Rush-Copley Medical Group in Aurora.

The Illinois Department of Public Health allows students to be exempt from vaccinations based on religious and medical reasons, but a new law signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner last month makes it harder for parents to claim an exemption. The law requires that parents wanting exemptions must complete an objection form and have a signed statement from a religious official attesting to a “bona fide religious objection.” Parents also must have the form signed by a health care provider.

Conrey said that, if students are able to receive an exemption through the firmer new restrictions, the law provides for situations in which Stevenson could hold them out of classes anyway.

“If we were to have a case of measles, for example, we would have to keep students without meningitis vaccinations out of school until at least two weeks after the last case of measles was cleared,” Conrey said. “The reason why is because measles is one of the viruses that can cause meningitis.”

The school said that Stevenson students or parents with more questions about the new requirement should contact the school nurses at 847-415-4019 or 847-415-4025.

Tribune reporters Dawn Rhodes and Sarah Freishtat and Daily Southtown reporter Frank Vaisvilas contributed.

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