Toronto school board bans students without vaccine cards from sports

Students who decline mandatory school vaccines will not be allowed to take part in sports or participate in academic activities at Queen’s Park public schools, Toronto school board members say.

So-called exemption cards have been popping up on classrooms desks, the Star reported, as parents do what they can to protect their children from possible health and safety risks posed by the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. The school board voted last month to limit the number of students who can attend school without showing proof of vaccination.

About 160,000 Toronto school children are not vaccinated against HPV and HPV-associated conditions. Some parents cite personal views about vaccines, citing a litany of anti-vaccine websites. Others say the prices of the vaccines are too high and bring financial hardship. The board also reported seeing a rise in the number of parents who registered refusal cards.

Sorry I can’t vaccinate your children – you can’t send them to my school Read more

“It’s clear now the commitment of the school board to parent communication is very strong,” said trustee John Tracey, at a meeting of the Ontario division of the Canadian Federation of Students.

His fellow trustees at Queen’s Park publicly rejected a motion he had made for a five-year study to investigate the best way to encourage vaccinations.

Ithaca School School owner and trustee Donna Blackburn said she was concerned about the repercussions of an expanded program.

“What if [parents] don’t vaccinate their children?” she asked. “Who do they send them to? Their best friend’s school? Do they send their kids to a school if they are concerned about who has been vaccinated? I think that sort of panic is, I think, more terrifying.”

Councillor Norm Kelly, who represents the area from where the students come, agreed.

“The trouble with school boards setting impossible standards, are they not working to offer as much choice as possible in an environment that is very anxious,” he said.

He acknowledged some of the factors that support the lack of vaccine-compliance – economics, parental reluctance and societal thinking – but said they can all be remedied if more information is widely disseminated.

The Ontario government has, like other provinces in Canada, begun implementing tighter rules for the supply of vaccines. Ontario’s policy restricts the number of vaccines required for students to one per family. It also includes consequences for parents who attempt to get around the rules.

In late October, the state of Minnesota temporarily suspended the immunization schedules of 20 private schools in an effort to balance the right to have children protected from highly contagious diseases with the safety of other students.

Most enrolment officials at those schools agreed that, despite language about giving students the opportunity to refuse vaccination, the result was often students being on the sidelines.

“What I’ve noticed in my experience is that parents who choose not to vaccinate are often not doing so for the safety of the children,” Thomas Goemaere, head of the Minnesota Department of Health, told reporters after the schools returned to full vaccination rates the next month.

“[They are doing so] because of perceptions about vaccine safety.”

A 2014 study in the US found that about one in five parents who used the parent-child exemption simply failed to sign a health certificate, but that it could reflect well-intentioned misinformation.

“It is our best estimate that just 10% of parents who applied to the student vaccine exemption represent actual vaccine refusers,” researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wrote.

After months of educating parents, about half of US schools now require proof of vaccinations to enroll, the study found.

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