PRINCE GEORGE'S SCHOOLS

Judge's Letter Produces Inoculations, And Anger

Above, parents and kids wait in the cold to resolve immunization issues at the county courthouse. Velma Floyd of Landover, right, said it had been weeks since she sent in proof that her son doesn't need the chickenpox vaccine.
Above, parents and kids wait in the cold to resolve immunization issues at the county courthouse. Velma Floyd of Landover, right, said it had been weeks since she sent in proof that her son doesn't need the chickenpox vaccine. (Photos By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dozens of parents brought their children to a Prince George's County courthouse yesterday in response to a judge's letter warning them that they had failed to get their children state-mandated vaccinations and faced imminent exclusion from the school system.

But a number of the parents who showed up, some of them irate, said they had their children immunized on time and therefore should not have received letters stating they were out of compliance. The parents accused the school system of poor record-keeping.

"Why have I been dragged out here on a cold Saturday morning?" fumed Velma Floyd of Landover. She said it had been weeks since she provided officials at G. James Gholson Middle School a doctor's note proving that her 13-year-old son has had the chickenpox and therefore does not need the vaccine. "Insulted is an understatement. They make you feel like you're an unfit parent, when the one thing I stay on top of is my children's health."

John White, a spokesman for the school system, did not dispute the accounts of parents who said they should not have received letters. But, he said, if mistakes were made, "they were made at the school level." Or parents might have had some but not all of the paperwork they needed to prove that their children had had their immunizations and booster shots, he said.

"For two years, we've been sending letters, going door-to-door, spreading the word that if you believe your school does not have your paperwork, please take care of it with your principal," White said.

Prince George's officials have been struggling for months to ensure that all 131,000 children in the county's schools are properly immunized against such diseases as chickenpox and hepatitis B, ultimately setting a Sept. 20 deadline for parents to comply.

Last week, school officials and Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey threatened legal action against the parents of more than 2,300 students who they said still needed vaccinations and had been barred from school as a result.

About the same time, as a first step, Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. sent a letter to the parents of 1,700 students requesting their presence at the courthouse Saturday and informing them that staff from the county Health Department and public schools' Health Services would be available to perform vaccinations on the spot.

Yesterday, White pronounced the strategy a success; since Wednesday, 1,189 parents have come forward to resolve their children's cases, he said. An additional 172 parents took care of their cases at the courthouse; 101 children received their needed shots, and parents of 71 children provided proof that their kids had received the necessary vaccinations.

White said 939 students are now out of compliance.

"It's not zero, but it's better," he said. "So we keep trying."

White said school officials will begin looking tomorrow at each of the 939 cases to determine how to proceed.


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