Truancy Laws Could Apply To Unimmunized 7th Graders
by Aundrea Cline-Thomas
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A week after the 7th grade immunization deadline past, Metro schools will begin sending home students who lack the required vaccinations. By next week, the district could have the legal right to get the courts involved.
Officials with the Metro Public Health Department pulled nurses from other clinics to staff the fast track immunizations specifically geared to student graders who must get new shots to attend the seventh grade.
"We don't always know how many people are going to show up," said health department spokesman Brian Todd. "We staff up like we're going to have a big turn out."
Few students actually showed up Friday, even after multiple reports of Monday's deadline. Officials with the Metro Nashville Public School District said more than 2,100 7th graders did not have the necessary vaccinations in time.
Health clinics were available through the week, but many parents and students again failed to show up.
As a result of the low turnout, on Thursday and Friday the fast track clinics were closed. Those wanting immunizations had to wait with other patients in the regular clinic.
"We want to make sure that we're using everybody's time efficiently," said Todd.
Starting this last week, students were sent home for non-compliance. Each day missed was documented as an unexcused absence.
"In the schools' case, they can file a petition on a kid who has missed more than four days of school unexcused," said Bob Ross, Director of the Juvenile Court of Nashville.
Once a student has more than four days of unexcused absences in the entire school year, the law allows the district to file a petition and get the court involved.
"If they come in and plead guilty, then they're put under an order to go to school for six weeks and pay $83 in court costs," he said.
The courts would hold the parents responsible.
According to Ross, in 2010 Metro Schools filed more than 1,800 petitions against students with attendance issues. The district has not indicated that it plans to seek legal recourse if students don't get their shots, even though after four unexcused absences it would be within their legal right.
School leaders said they were simply hoping families complied.
The Lentz Public Health Center will re-open the immunization clinic on Monday, August 29 from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the auditorium.