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Department of Public Instruction goal: 100 percent immunized or exempt students

Nearly 10,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students across the state are not fully immunized, according to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. That's about 8 percent of the elementary and secondary academic population.

Less than 2 percent of students' parents opt out of vaccinations for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.

"What that leaves schools and students with is a real unknown vulnerability to be part of a public outbreak of illnesses," said Valerie Fischer, director of safe and healthy schools.

The Department of Public Instruction is partnering with the North Dakota Department of Health to make sure all students in the state have the proper immunizations at the right time. Students who are not immunized can be restricted from attending class.

"Technically the law does allow schools to prohibit somebody from attending, but to my knowledge we have not had anybody do that," Fischer said.

Because different states have different immunization schedules, new students from out of state can contribute to the non-immunized number, Fischer said.

"Someone could come in from another state and not learn until they enroll for school that they require additional immunizations," Fischer said. "We try to point them in the right direction so that they can meet those as quickly as they can."

All students at Dickinson Public Schools are either up to date with their immunizations or have properly opted out, despite having more than 300 new students register this fall, Superintendent Doug Sullivan said.

"There have been no issues with the immunization records," Sullivan said. "They have arrived in a timely manner and they've been complete."

A nonvaccinated student may be treated differently if there is an outbreak of a disease that child has not been immunized for, Sullivan said.

"It may be necessary to send those children home until the danger of the disease is over," Sullivan said. "We would try and work with them to make sure they wouldn't fall too far behind and send as much work home as possible."

Immunizations can be provided by pediatricians or local health units, Fischer said.

The Southwestern District Health Unit travels to schools in the spring to provide meningococcal and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccines to all sixth graders, as they are a requirement to enter the seventh grade, said Doreen Ott, director of nurses.

"We're in the school setting whenever they have a request for some type of health-related topic," Ott said. "We're doing whatever if they call and ask for something."

In the fall, the health unit provides flu shots, Ott said.

There are also regular immunization days at county offices or appointments can be made, Ott said. There are county offices in Beach, Bowman, Dickinson, Hettinger, Mott and Killdeer.

"We just want to help people get their shots and be current and keep them healthy," Fischer said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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