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Like in middle school, charter schools' kindergarten vaccination rates trail district-run schools

Seventh graders in California charter schools were significantly less likely than their peers in district-run public schools to have received all of the vaccinations state law requires last year, KPCC reported last week.

Now, a follow-up analysis of state Department of Public Health data revealed roughly the same gap between charter schools — publicly-funded, but run by independent boards and non-profits — and their district counterparts in another grade: kindergarten.

At least 95 percent of kindergartners had received most or all of their shots in roughly 93.1 percent of traditional, district-run schools — that's 4,667 out of the 5,012 schools.

Fewer charter schools could report numbers as strong. Only three-quarters of charter schools reported at least 95 percent of their kindergartners were up-to-date — 432 out of the 569 charters.


Those counts include:

  • Students state officials counted as "up-to-date," meaning they'd received all of the dozen or so required immunizations.
  • "Conditional entrants," a category that includes students who haven't received a required dose, but are not yet due to receive it. It also covers some transfer students and children given a temporary waiver from a doctor.
  • Students exempted under provisions of Senate Bill 227, which state lawmakers passed in 2015, exempting children enrolled in "non-classroom-based" programs, such as an independent study program. A disproportionate number of charter schools operate on this basis.

With the passage of Senate Bill 227, parents are no longer able to sign waivers exempting children from vaccination due to religious or other personal beliefs. That change has prompted some opponents of mandatory vaccination to enroll their children schools not subject to the requirements, including independent study programs.
As the KPCC analysis of seventh grade data found, "Permanent Medical Exemptions" explain some, but not all, of the gap between charter and district-run schools' kindergarten data. A vaccination advocate said she believes in some charter schools, clusters of parents have sought out doctors who are willing to bend the rules to write these waivers for their children.

Statewide, the vaccination rate among kindergartners hit a new high in the 2016-17 school year. The state reports 95.6 percent of the young students received all their required vaccines, a 2. percentage-point rise from the year before to the highest mark since the state first rolled out the current vaccine regimen began in 2001.

Though gaps exist between public charter and district-run schools, the true trouble-spot in the dataset for vaccination advocates has long been non-public schools.

Nearly three in ten private schools did not even report 2016-17 data, though their students are not exempt from California's vaccination law.