By JOHN McBRYDE
The number of Williamson County Schools students entering kindergarten who requested immunization exemptions for religious reasons increased notably from 2017-18 to the current school year.
As pointed out by WCS School Health nurse coordinator Tina Hamlin at a Board of Education policy meeting this week, the number jumped from 67 students in 2017 to 109 entering the 2018-19 school year. The percentage of students seeking religious exemption to immunization requirements went from 2.6 to 4.1 percent in a year.
“We have the highest percentage of religious exemptions in the state,” said Hamlin, who helped to draft a revised board policy addressing physical examinations and immunizations. Part of that revision is to add language addressing religious exemptions, which is not included in the current policy.
The revised policy, which board members will vote on in first reading at their next full meeting Monday, Feb. 18, states the following:
Exceptions, in the absence of an epidemic or immediate threat thereof, will be granted to any student whose parent/guardian files with school authorities the following:
- A signed, written statement that such immunization and other preventative measures conflict with the parent’s or guardian’s religious tenets and practices, affirmed under the penalties of perjury;
- A written statement from the student’s doctor excusing the student from immunization due to medical reasons;
- Any student determined to be homeless, pursuant to federal law, may not be denied admission because of the student’s lack of immunization records due to being homeless.
“The purpose of this immunization law is to protect against student exposures, but the three exceptions that the law requires basically eat up the purpose,” WCS Deputy Superintendent and General Counsel Jason Golden said. “So the failsafe that the state has built in to those exceptions eating up the purpose is that one line that says except in the event of an epidemic. It’s really odd. I struggle with it as a lawyer because of that, but that’s how the state has structured it.”
All bets are off should there be an epidemic of, say, measles. Those students who haven’t been vaccinated would be required to stay out of school over the course of the epidemic.
The stated exception for homeless students is also new to the policy. Those students can start the school year, but social workers and school counselors would work with their parents to arrange for immunizations within ensuing months.
As for religious exemptions, parents aren’t required to name their religion or specifically point out a restriction, but they do run the risk of committing perjury if they’re not truthful. Visit the website for Vanderbilt Medical Center for a list of how various religions view immunization.
Below are the comparisons between the last two years for kindergarten immunization:
Number of Students: 2,609
Fully Immunized: 2,482 (95.1%)
Religious Exemption: 67 (2.6%)
Valid Temporary: 54 (2.1%)
Medical Exemption: 5 (0.2%)
Excluded Transfer: 1 (0%)
Number of Students: 2,649
Fully Immunized: 2,504 (94.5%)
Religious Exemption: 109 (4.1%)
Valid Temporary: 31 (1.2%)
Medical Exemption: 4 (.2%)
Missing Record: 1 (0%)