Students without current vaccinations or exemptions at risk of exclusion from school

SEATTLE -- Deadlines are rapidly approaching for families to get their kids in compliance with Washington’s new vaccination laws.

In May 2019, the state legislature passed a bill to change the vaccine exemption law. It removed the personal and philosophical options to exempt children from the MMR vaccine, used for diseases like measles, mumps and rubella.

The new law was a direct response to a measles outbreak in Southwest Washington state early this year, mostly in Clark County.

Exemptions for medical and religious beliefs remain in the law.

The law became effective July 28, 2019, and was applied to all public schools, private schools and childcare statewide.

The state Department of Health said students are required to have current vaccines or valid exemption forms turned in by the first day of school, or the first day of their transfer to another school. Those who didn’t have current documentation were placed under the state’s “conditional status” for 30 days. During that time, families were required to get the proper paperwork turned into their school.

If they did not meet that deadline, their children were barred from attending school. But each school district has different "conditional status" deadlines.

“It’s not a punishment, it’s simply saying that you don’t have the proper paperwork you need to attend school. So, they would be excluded from school until they can provide that paperwork,” said Danielle Koenig, the health promotions supervisor for state Department of Health.

The conditional status deadline is Nov. 4 at Everett School District for students not in compliance with vaccines or exemptions. A representative from the district said schools and administrators have been proactive in reaching out to families. The representative also mentioned the number of non-compliant students has decreased daily.

Some parents in Everett said more people should consider vaccines.

“We want to do what we can to protect each other, and it is important to make sure that you’re not transmitting diseases,” said Stephen Jacobson, who had both of his children vaccinated.

“It’s something the parent should take care of. And if they want to file for an exemption, so be it, let them do it. But if they have to get the paperwork in, they have to get the paperwork in,” said Craig Walker, who also had his children vaccinated.

The state law changed just weeks before Seattle Public School’s first day. The district had about 53,000 students enrolled. Samara Hoag, the district’s health services manager, said the state gave them extra time to process paperwork for several thousands of students not in compliance.

“Each document takes so long. We get records from every country, and state and you have to go through them manually,” said Hoag. “We have to compare with what they did in China with what we do in the United States and then come up where the discrepancy is. It’s really tough.”

Hoag said the district plans to send a letter on Nov. 1 to families of students they think may not be compliant. She explained students would have until the end of December to provide the district their paperwork. Hoag said the district’s hard deadline is Jan. 6 before a student would be excluded.

“It’s important for us to have accurate records. When we have a student that walks through the door who has measles, I need to work with the health department and to be able to quickly say who in this community is at risk to get measles, who’s not vaccinated and who needs to leave the school because they could be in danger to get measles,” said Hoag.

A representative from Bellevue School District said the administration has until Dec. 1 to report the status of student immunization compliance to the state’s department of health.

A representative from Tacoma Public Schools said 53 families did not get paperwork in by deadline, which has already passed there. Though the district was still calculating how many students were not in compliance, the representative said the district sent certified letters to those families requiring their children be excluded until their paperwork was turned in.

The representative mentioned the district expects to send more letters to families as they sort through a new online data system where the immunization records and exemptions are tracked.