Incomplete immunization records are the latest barrier to education for dozens of Schenectady students with a possibility that similar situations may arise in other Capital Region school districts.
As of Wednesday, just over 300 students in Schenectady still had incomplete immunization records. Earlier in the week, the Schenectady City School District started to bar those students from attending school, whether in person or remotely, citing state Department of Health regulations. The district is still looking to engage about 20 percent of its students slated for virtual learning this year, based on attendance averages for the academic year to date.
State regulations give families 14 days from the start of the school year to submit a student’s complete record of required vaccines to their school district before the district is required to prohibit the student from attending school until the records are updated. State officials recently notified school districts that the rule would also apply to students attending school remotely. Nearly 170 students finalized the vaccine paperwork between the district’s Wednesday and Thursday tally, according to numbers provided Wednesday by district spokesperson Karen Corona.
“I wish we had more flexibility than to just shut off a kid,” said interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak, refering to the state’s vaccination requirements.
Since this past spring, district staff members have been contacting families, offering them resources to help them complete the list of required. However, district officials said the pandemic complicated the process, causing some families to cancel appointments, adding a host of other issues which needed to be communicated and resolved before school opened for the new academic year. Ellis Hospital hosted open clinics for vaccinations on Wednesday and Thursday, in an effort to help district families close the gap.
While the incomplete vaccine records are forcing some students who had been participating this year out of school, the district is still working to get other students to make it to school or to log in for online lessons.
Overall, the district has had an average student attendance rate this school year of 83 percent, with nearly 90 percent attendance for students attending some in-person school and 81 percent for students learning entirely virtual. (The district provided the Daily Gazette an average attendance for all students from the start of the year through Sept. 30, also providing average rates for the mixed in-person model and the all-virtual model.)
Bochniak said the attendance average was trending upward and that the persistent attendance challenges were primarily with families the district has not been able to contact. District staff are working to engage students, making home visits as needed. Many of the remaining students with attendance problems are ones the district has largely been unable to contact so far this year, Bochniak said. He said the attendance issues were largest among ninth and tenth graders and stronger among younger and older students.
In comparison, the district had an overall average attendance rate of 71 percent from March 16 until the end of last school year, when buildings closed and education shifted entirely online.
“I think we have work to do,” Bochniak said of the attendance rates. “I am still concerned there are 20 percent we are missing. That’s a significant concern for us as a district.”
At the start of last week, over 1,500 students in the district were still without computer devices. By Thursday, Bochniak said that while the district had delivered or set aside devices for every student that requested one, “a couple hundred” remained for families the district has been unable to contact about delivering the device.
It’s not clear how widespread a problem the incomplete vaccine records may be in other districts. A Mohonasen school district spokesperson on Thursday said all families were complying with vaccine requirements and that no students had been excluded due to incomplete records. A Ballston Spa spokesperson said five students had been excluded for incomplete records – similar to the amount last year. Other districts did not respond to the Gazette by press time.
About 5 percent of the students in the Greater Amsterdam School District did not have complete immunization records – or about 185 students – district spokesperson John Noetzel said Thursday. However, he added that the district was counting its 14-day grace period from Sept. 28, its first day of in-person school, giving families until Oct. 16 to submit paperwork before students could be prohibited from attending school.
Noetzel said school nurses were taking the lead on reaching out to families still in need of completing vaccine requirements and working with the Montgomery County Health Department to help coordinate access to care.