CMS may suspend students over shots

About one in three sixth-graders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools could face suspension unless they get a newly required vaccine by next week, according to a preliminary CMS count.

A search of vaccination records, done in preparation for Tuesday's deadline, found 2,973 sixth-graders lacking the required inoculation against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. That comes to 35 percent of all sixth-graders, and three of 33 middle schools still had not reported their numbers when CMS released the tally.

The situation may not be as dire as it looks, said Nancy Langenfeld, CMS's school health director. Some students may have gotten the shot, but the record hasn't made it into the computer system, she said.

Schools are checking their paperwork and reminding parents of the deadline. CMS is publicizing opportunities to get immunizations, including a free clinic at Merry Oaks Elementary on Saturday. If the need remains high, CMS could schedule extra school clinics next week, Langenfeld said.

Kindergarteners and other first-time students must also have proof of required vaccines by Tuesday. Those shots have been required for years. CMS hasn't done a tally on those yet, but Langenfeld said 8 to 10 percent of students usually miss by the deadline. Even then, suspensions are rare, she said; schools work with parents to get an appointment lined up so the students can be labeled “in progress” and kept in class.

Students who get a medical or religious waiver do not have to be vaccinated.

The sixth-grade vaccination, known as “Tdap,” is new in North Carolina this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the booster after North Carolina saw an increase in pertussis, or whooping cough. Langenfeld said that may be why more families are in danger of missing the deadline: “It's new to parents. It's new to physicians. It's new to schools,” she said.