Barred from school, kids line up for shots

5,000 excluded from city classes

hundreds crowd clinics

January 23, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Parents were frustrated that they had to take the day off from work. Kids were excited that they got the day off from school.

At the Druid Health District, a city health clinic in West Baltimore, a few hundred people crammed into two waiting rooms yesterday, no longer able to delay what they had been putting off for months.

Vaccinations.

Yesterday was the first day that school systems in Baltimore City and Baltimore County turned students away for failure to comply with the state's new requirement that all children through ninth grade be immunized against chickenpox and hepatitis B. In the city, about 5,000 kids were shut out, more than half the total statewide.

While most younger children already had the vaccines because of previous requirements, school systems around Maryland have been scrambling since last spring to get shots and medical records for their fifth- through ninth-graders. Despite extensive efforts, most systems are left having to turn away at least some students.

In Anne Arundel County, which was among the systems that began turning students away earlier this month, the number excluded yesterday was only 53. In Baltimore County, it was about 700.

City kids could get their shots for free at the Druid Health District, which vaccinated 245 students Saturday and 173 yesterday.

Some in the crowd were admittedly procrastinators. Others said they didn't know about the requirements until a few days ago, though the city schools have been sending home letters for months. More still said they didn't realize they were out of compliance. And in a few cases, they were in compliance after all.

Annette Sutton had to take the day off from work yesterday to take her 13-year-old son, Shawn Johnson, to get vaccinated at the clinic, in the 1500 block of W. North Ave. She had gotten a letter late last week saying he was out of compliance.

But as it turned out, the boy had gotten his shots when he was supposed to; his school, Diggs-Johnson Middle, just hadn't recorded the data in its computer system.

"He didn't even need to be here," his mother said, exasperated, when told after about an hour of waiting that he wouldn't be getting a shot after all.

Standing in line with her younger brother, 15-year-old Jasmine Jones was equally baffled. "I had already got all my shots," the Booker T. Washington Middle School eighth-grader said, looking at a letter saying she couldn't return to school. "I don't know what they're talking about."

A few steps away, Jasmine Jones's two cousins were waiting with her aunt, Deborah Lyle. Lyle acknowledged that she had known about the vaccination requirements since the beginning of the school year, but she said she was having trouble getting an appointment at East Baltimore Medical Center.

"The appointments to get into the clinics, it's crazy. You have to wait two to three weeks," Lyle said. She didn't find out about the walk-in clinic at Druid Health District, on the other side of the city, until Friday.

Lyle and her kids munched on barbecue potato chips while they waited for their number, 85, to be called. After about an hour, they were led into a cramped nurse's office decorated with silk purple flowers. There, they learned that 13-year-old Keona Lyle was already up to date on her vaccinations. Only her brother Montrez, also 13, needed a shot.

The nurse, Constance Waddell, asked Montrez Lyle a series of questions about his health history, such as whether he had ever been treated for tuberculosis. "What's TB?" he asked.

He didn't flinch when she stuck his right arm with a needle, and he leapt out of his chair immediately afterward, ready to go back to Hamilton Middle School.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute!" Waddell said, chasing after him. "I need to put a Band-Aid on you."

On Friday, officials estimated that 12,000 students statewide would be kept out of school this week. More than half of those were in Baltimore, where 6,100 students received letters saying not to return until they were in compliance.

Over the weekend, about 1,000 city students got shots or produced proof that they already had them, but that still left the 5,000 who were marked absent yesterday. The city health department will continue offering free health clinics most days this week, alternating between the Druid site and one on the east side.

State education department officials didn't have an exact number of students turned away from school yesterday. They gathered statistics from 12 of the state's 24 school systems, which collectively had turned away 2,627 students. But officials couldn't say which systems were included in that survey, except that it apparently did not include Baltimore City.

In Howard County, schools were closed yesterday for staff training, giving about 400 students who were not up to date on their vaccinations an extra day to get their shots.

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