Behind on vaccines, 5,000 students could be held out of St. Paul Public Schools

Around 5,000 students in St. Paul Public Schools will be kicked out of school late next month unless they obtain mandatory vaccines for numerous childhood diseases.

Many families have held off on routine health care visits during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving their children out of compliance with state vaccine requirements. By law, they must be excluded from school unless they obtain either the shots or an exemption.

“We know that if we don’t push the issue, many of our families it will carry on for the entire year,” district health and wellness director Mary Langworthy told the school board Tuesday.

“And when we’re looking at the risk of another potential communicable disease, such as a chickenpox outbreak or a measles outbreak on top of COVID, it’s something we’re desperately working hard to avoid.”

The school board is expected on Oct. 19 to approve a private list of students to be held out of school starting Oct. 27.

Langworthy said the list is sure to shrink in the coming weeks as staff continue sending reminders to families with noncompliant students. Shots are available at the district’s Student Placement Center.

In 2018, the district held 96 students out of school for a total of 265 days for vaccine noncompliance. A year later, 61 students were held out for 119.5 days.

But last year, when the district was in distance learning for most of the school year, the district did not go through the process of excluding students for failing to get vaccinated. That, along with the continued pandemic, has Langworthy expecting unusually large numbers of excluded students next month.

Langworthy said that when summer began, over 6,000 students were behind on their shots. Nearly half came into compliance over the summer, but birthdays and new enrollments have pushed the number back up to around 5,000.

Langworthy said that in past years, her staff was inconsistent about when they’d bring forward lists of noncompliant students. This school year, she expects they’ll present all noncompliant students in October.

“As a parent, I want to make sure that the rules apply equally,” she said.

The state requires five kinds of shots by kindergarten: hepatitis B; chickenpox; polio; measles, mumps and rubella; and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Students also get meningococcal shots in middle school.

There are exemptions for homeless students, for those who already have immunity and for medical reasons and conscientious objections. Students new to the state have 30 days to comply.

According to Minnesota Health Department data, vaccine compliance rates historically have been lower in private schools than in public schools, and compliance in charter schools has been even lower.


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