Students required to get shots before Jan. 4

Thousands of Wichita school district students risk not being able to return to school if they don't get required vaccinations before Jan. 4, when classes resume after winter break.

Middle schools are especially affected because of new state vaccination requirements, said district spokeswoman Susan Arensman.

The district has been notifying parents about increased vaccination requirements since last spring. That was in the hope that parents would get vaccines for their children over the summer, said Kathy Hubka, district health services coordinator.

Beginning Jan. 4, children won't be allowed at school until they get the required vaccinations, Arensman said.

She estimated that roughly 90 percent of students have met the requirements. In past years, she estimated, that compliance was higher — above 95 percent.

That means thousands of students haven't yet complied with new state requirements and will need to get required vaccines over the next three weeks.

The district needs verification of the vaccinations.

The deadline for compliance in past years has been much earlier — in October. But this school year has been different because so many students have been sick with flu and school nurses have been dealing with that outbreak and coordinating H1N1 vaccine clinics, Arensman said. Ill students have had to wait until they are well before they get vaccines.

It's hard to say why some children don't yet have the required vaccinations, she said.

"It's not for lack of trying to let the families know."

School nurses have notified parents of children who are not in compliance, she said.

Jill Darge, PTA president for Benton Elementary School, said, "I understand the need to get those vaccines. I just wish it didn't happen at such an inopportune time for families."

Many Benton students are from families with lower incomes. That means parents face having to pay for vaccines when they also are struggling with holiday-related expenses, Darge said.

It also could be difficult to get appointments at clinics around the holidays, she said.

Arensman said that the health department offers vaccines at a lower cost, based on a sliding scale.

In a statement Friday, Arensman said the district urges parents to schedule an appointment with their family physician or the Sedgwick County Health Department to update their immunizations before the Jan. 4 deadline.

The new vaccine requirements for the 2009-10 school year are from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment:

* Students in grades six through nine must have three doses of Hepatitis B vaccine, which was previously required only for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

* Incoming kindergarten students need two doses of the varicella, or chicken pox, vaccine. Students in grades six through nine must have at least one dose of the vaccine, which was previously required only through the fifth grade.

More information about required immunizations can be found at www.usd259.com/parents/health/immunizations.htm.

Parents with questions also can contact their children's school nurse, said Hubka, the health coordinator.

Students can be exempt from the requirements if they have documentation from a physician stating that there are medical reasons not to get the vaccines, Arensman said.

Students also can be exempt if a parent provides documentation saying a student's religion opposes immunizations.