Farmington schools' new vaccination policy set

Superintendent says need for action was urgent in light of recent illness outbreaks

Joshua Kellogg

FARMINGTON — The Farmington Municipal School District has updated its immunization and vaccination policy to comply with new requirements for submitting immunization reports to the state.

School nurse Carly Mead goes through student records on Friday at Animas Elementary School in Farmington.

School board members approved the changes during Thursday’s meeting. They suspended board rules so they could approve the new policy on its first appearance in front of the board. Superintendent Gene Schmidt said after the meeting there typically are two readings of a new policy before the board votes.

Schmidt said he felt it was urgent for the district to have a clear and concise policy in accordance with  New Mexico Department of Health rules that require submission of the reports on immunization coverage for students in kindergarten and seventh grade by Nov. 1.

“The state is telling us to move on this quickly, that the health and safety of all kids are important and we need to have the rules and protocols in place,” Schmidt said.

School nurse Carly Mead enters student records into a database on Friday at Animas Elementary School in Farmington.

A memo from the state health department to superintendents and school administrators in July informed them that the department wanted school districts to ensure they are following state statutes and regulations after a nationwide outbreak of measles during the 2014-2015 school year caused concern.

David Morgan, spokesman for the state health department's Southwest Public Health Region, said the department last compiled the annual immunization coverage report in 2008 and reintroduced the requirement to assist in tracking vaccine coverage rates in New Mexico.

Cathy McDonald, Farmington schools nursing coordinator, said New Mexico was lucky when no confirmed cases of measles were reported following the large multi-state outbreak linked to the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks in Anaheim, Calif.

“I feel like they do see this whole breadth of outbreak of communicable diseases as something that can happen (here) in a heartbeat,” McDonald said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, 117 of the 189 reported cases of measles from Jan. 1 to Sept. 18 this year were linked to the outbreak at Disney theme parks in California.

The board policy also states the district will dis-enroll non-compliant students on Dec. 1 of each year until the student is properly immunized or presents a valid exemption.

McDonald said state law has required school districts to dis-enroll non-compliant students, and the new district policy clearly identifies the time frame for that process.

The Farmington district has an estimated 98 to 99 percent immunization compliance rate, according to McDonald. She said the office sends a lot of “final notices” to parents about their students' immunization records but rarely has dis-enrolled a student for failing to maintain immunizations. McDonald also said the nurses in the district work hard to keep parents informed about their children's vaccinations, and that has helped ensure a high compliance rate.

“When parents find out their student is going to be dis-enrolled, they’ll do what it takes to keep them in school,” McDonald said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.