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Schools must bar students who need vaccines

To head off expulsions, volunteer nurses will conduct free vaccination clinics next week

A huge number of Upper Rogue students face expulsion next month for falling behind on vaccinations, a situation directly related to poverty and declining social services, according to school officials.

State law on Feb. 18 will bar 125 students (45 percent) at White Mountain Middle School in White City and 141 students (30 percent) at Eagle Point Middle School unless they get shots ' mostly the hepatitis-B series or mumps, measles, rubella ' or bring in documentation showing they received the shots earlier, said Carol Irwin, Jackson County community health nurse.

To head off the expulsion, volunteer nurses from the Oregon Health and Science University at Southern Oregon University and from La Clinica del Valle in Phoenix will conduct free, on-site shot clinics at the two schools Feb. 4 and 5.

These kids are geographically isolated without enough insurance, transportation and access to health care services, said nursing professor Wendy Neander of OHSU, who will set up the clinic with two other nursing faculty, plus vaccine and a records assistant donated by La Clinica. We're volunteering because these kids are our future and have to stay in school.

Eagle Point School Superintendent Bill Feusahrens, who oversees both middle schools, said, We're behind on shots, I guess, because of the low socio-economic status that the kids come from and the fact they may not have health insurance.

— About 70 percent of students at the new White Mountain Middle School qualify for the free and reduced-price lunches available to low-income students, the district has estimated. At Eagle Point Middle School, about 59 percent of students qualify.

Other districts also have students who fail to get immunized, but not so many in a single year. Ashland schools in 2001-02 reported more than 12 percent of students opting out of immunizations on religious exemptions, but that number decreased following a state and county education effort.Most other districts report no more than — percent of students behind on shots, Irwin said.

Eagle Point's situation is unusual, said Risa Buck, coordinator of Project Health and mediator for several drug and violence prevention programs in Eagle Point schools.

Why is this happening? Because there are no resources out here, said Buck, who initiated the shot clinic. This is an example of what happens when parents aren't able to do what they should for their kids and schools suffer such severe cutbacks over many years, so they can't even get a basic education.

Buck said state and county funding has been stripped in the last six years for basic health and mental health programs for a community in a hard place with poverty, mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse ' so finding gas money and a car to get your kid to vaccinations is not a high priority. They're going to use that gas for groceries.

Buck said recent budget cuts have put the district in a bad spot that could get much worse after Feb. 3's election day.

Passing Measure 30 would be a Band-Aid and won't fix anything, she added. We're sitting in the toilet and if Measure 30 fails, we'll be flushed.

In addition to the socio-economic challenges, the school system suffered double blows two years ago when cutbacks resulted in layoff of the school nurse, who kept shots up to date, and from the fire that burned down Eagle Point Junior High School, destroying some students' vaccination records, said Chris White, secretary at the school.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org