The first day of school was cut short for nearly 300 Beaufort County seventh-graders, who have yet to provide proof that they have received a booster shot for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.
A state law that took effect last school year requires all seventh-graders to have the booster before returning to school in August.
Several hundred of the Beaufort County School District's 1,700 seventh-graders turned in the appropriate forms Monday, allowing them to stay in school. The remaining students were sent home and won't be allowed to return until they get the shot, head of student services Gregory McCord said.
"We were expecting that number to be a little bit better, hoping to be under 200 that first day of school," he said. "Many parents said they had proof and just forgot, so they will be bringing the forms in tomorrow."
Although some were sent home Monday, the district's first-day performance was better than a year ago, according to spokesman Jim Foster.
Last August, the district had to request a 30-day extension for nearly 800 families whose seventh-graders had not yet received the shot. When the extensions expired, about 20 students still had to be sent home, but were able to return by the next day after receiving the booster.
The district will not grant extensions this year, Foster said.
School board member JoAnn Orischak said she agrees with that decision.
"Last school year, the additional days ... (were) because of recent changes made to immunization requirements," she said. "By now, students, doctor's offices and the school district have had ample time to understand requirements, so an extension cannot be justified this 2014 school year, in my opinion."
Throughout the school year and summer, the middle schools have reminded families of the requirement through newsletters, parent meetings and phone calls. The schools also worked with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to hold vaccination clinics for sixth-graders in spring.
But not enough students took that opportunity, Bluffton Middle School nurse Meg Hendy has said.
The decision to send students home this year raises new questions, school board Chairman Bill Evans said. For instance, should the district offer low-cost clinics for students or allow those who miss classes to make up work?
McCord said the district is examining those options. Local clinics have recently received more of the vaccine, he said.
Although the district wants to help the students return to school as soon as possible, it must ensure students' safety, McCord said.
All three infections targeted by the vaccine are dangerous, according to Dr. Riyadh Muhammad, a pediatrician and medical consultant for DHEC. But whooping cough, or pertussis, is the disease DHEC most hopes to prevent, she said.
Several confirmed cases of the contagious respiratory illness popped up in Upstate schools last September, according to the health department. There were 210 confirmed and probable cases in South Carolina in 2013. As of last month, there were about 80 cases in the state so far in 2014.
McCord said he doesn't expect the students who were sent home Monday to be out of school for more than several days.
"This is just a gentle reminder for those parents and students," he said. "Some need that gentle reminder to do what they already know must be done."
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- Compliance better, but not all Beaufort County 7th-graders meet vaccine requirement, July 19, 2014
- Most Beaufort County seventh-graders meet Tdap vaccine deadline, September 20, 2013
- 350 Beaufort County 7th-graders need vaccine to stay in school, September 10, 2013
- Beaufort County seventh-graders way behind on new vaccine rule, nurse says, July 31, 2013