A state law may bar Fresno Unified students from attending school if they haven't been vaccinated against whooping cough – but there's no way to enforce it.
The district plans to keep unvaccinated students in classes this week even though its vaccination deadline has passed, then sequester them beginning next week – partly in hopes that it will continue to receive state subsidies that are based on attendance.
Fresno Unified isn't the first district in California to keep students in school after its deadline, but it is the largest.
A state official said Thursday that Fresno Unified's plan won't pass muster. But Larry Powell, Fresno County's superintendent of schools, said there's nothing in the state's accounting system to keep Fresno Unified from receiving state funds.
"Even if the students are put in an independent study program, there's no way for the state to tell which student is vaccinated and which student is not," Powell said.
The law requires proof of whooping cough boosters for all middle and high school students at the start of the school year. State officials granted a 30-day extension after a tepid response to vaccination efforts during the spring and summer.
But, Powell explained Thursday, it's up to districts to verify that students have cleared the requirement. The state isn't enforcing the mandate.
Also, Powell said, attendance is determined at the district level. Districts then submit paperwork to the state for reimbursement – about $30-$35 a day for every student who attends classes.
If a weeklong sequester isn't reimbursed by the state, Fresno Unified could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.
On Thursday, 10% of the district's students – about 2,800 teens – still hadn't returned proof of receiving the shot, submitted a waiver or returned a permission slip to get the shot at their school.
Those students were allowed to come to class Thursday, but had to go to the school office to call their parents about the requirement.
The procedure will be repeated today, and nurses will be available at each school site to give shots to students who bring in permission slips signed by a parent or guardian.
Starting Monday, the district will sequester in school cafeterias and gymnasiums the students who still haven't turned in proof of vaccination.
Students who don't provide proof by Oct. 4 will be forced to study from home.
District spokeswoman Susan Bedi said every student who is sequestered will be expected to complete assignment packets from their classes – which could be construed as satisfying the class attendance requirement for state reimbursement, Powell said.
Fresno Unified officials wouldn't say whether they planned to file for state attendance reimbursement for the unvaccinated students.
"We will be following up with [the state] on this matter," Bedi said.
But, she added, "We want to give our families every opportunity to get into compliance while not interrupting the student's learning."
Thursday, a state official maintained that there's no gray area.
"The bottom line is, if a student isn't vaccinated they must be excluded from school," said Linda Davis-Alldritt, California Department of Education's school nurse consultant. "Unvaccinated students don't qualify for independent study – either at school or at home – so there's no way a district can legitimately claim those students."
The district is moving more students toward compliance. Officials managed to vaccinate more than 2,000 teens Wednesday at school, and more than 100 families attended a shot clinic that evening. Another evening clinic was scheduled on Thursday.
Other Valley districts are following a stricter interpretation of the law as they approach their deadlines this week. Clovis and Madera officials said they are barring unvaccinated students from school.
Clovis Unified expects to exclude 68 students today who hadn't provided proof of getting the booster shot, and there are still 900 Madera Unified students who may be turned away from classes Monday.