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Guest Voz: Are Texas kids safe at school?

By Jose Alejandro

Our children spend the majority of their days and years learning. The vast majority are spending nine months a year sitting in classrooms with their classmates as teachers expose them to the fundamentals of math, writing and learning how to critically analyze materials. Unfortunately, learning in classrooms and in our schools also exposes our children to illness.

It is understood, within the healthcare community, that transmission of illness among children is common because of the proximity and duration children sit and play within a classroom together. As many of us with children understand, a cold or flu caught in the classroom can quickly become the cold or flu a student’s family eventually suffers with.

It would be helpful and, in some instances, incredibly important if the school could tell us who might get sick and who will stay healthy. Now, the Texas Legislature is working on legislation which would get us similar information.

No school campus can ever prevent illness from coming into its classrooms and hallways. Families must make difficult choices when illness is spreading throughout their child’s classroom or school. Thankfully, the Texas Legislature now has the opportunity to ensure parents within the Lone Star State have important information about the potential for illnesses at their children’s school.

Currently, every independent school district in Texas must keep track of the vaccine rate in its district. This is misleading, especially in large school districts such as the Dallas Independent School. There, the vaccine rate is based on more than 100 different school campuses, rather than providing information based on the individual school campuses. Providing single school campus vaccination rates gives more pertinent information to parents, who can decide if that school maintains a vaccination rate they are comfortable with.

House Bill 1593 instructs each public school in Texas to publish the vaccination rate for that specific campus and requires school officials to inform each parent with a child attending that school of that vaccination rate. This information is crucial for all children, but most importantly for children who, due to medical problems cannot be vaccinated.

Many vaccine-preventable diseases, such as the measles outbreak originating from Disneyland – California, can be contained with vaccination or, at least knowing to stay away from areas where many are choosing not to vaccinate.

Parents have the right to know if their child or children are attending a school with a low immunization rate. Under this legislation, the vaccine records of each student would not be released. That information is private and should not be shared.

However, should a school release data showing a low vaccination rate, parents will have that information and can determine if they want their child to continue attending that school or transfer to a different campus with higher vaccination rates.

The more information we have about the environments our children live, work and play in, the better we can protect them.

Jose Alejandro, PhD, RN-BC, MBA, FAAN, is a Professor and First Level Coordinator at El Centro College and the immediate Past President, National Association of Hispanic Nurses.

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