Tiffany Dilleshaw was with her daughters at an immunization clinic hosted by Fresno Unified School District on Monday, and she was angry.
Two of her three children were turned away when they showed up for the first day of school at Norseman Elementary because they were not being properly vaccinated.
A state law that went into effect this summer eliminated personal and religious exemptions for families that wished to opt out of vaccinations for their children. Now, all students entering kindergarten and seventh grade, as well as transfer students, are required to be vaccinated against whooping cough, measles and other diseases. Some students may qualify for a medical exemption based on the seriousness of their condition and with a doctor-approved waiver.
Fresno Unified’s vaccination rate is high, with less than one percent of families filing for exemptions before the new law ever took place. But for families leery of vaccinations – or for those who didn’t know a lack of proof would mean their students would be turned away on Monday – the return to the school year was a stressful one.
“They were ready for school today, and now here we are,” Dilleshaw said of her girls as they waited at the Adult Transition Program building, where the district is holding last-minute immunization clinics through Friday. “Now they have to start school late.”
Dilleshaw has been selective about which vaccinations her children receive ever since her youngest child had a seizure in 2011 after having five shots in one day.
They’re taking parenting away from us.
Fresno Unified parent Nena Fairbanks on new state vaccine requirements
“I don’t know if it was the shots or because she had so many all at once. I asked them if it was safe and they said it was fine. But it definitely was not fine. After that, I was like, no, I’m not doing it,” she said. “Now I absolutely have to. Why? What if I don’t want to? It should be my right as their parent if I don’t think they need it.”
Alexia Calderon was turned away from Wawona Middle School on Monday. Her mother, Irene Dominguez, has five children in the school district and had planned to get her the proper immunizations this week, but she didn’t realize it would prevent her daughter from entering the classroom on Monday.
“I was in the office and I was looking on the board, on this piece of paper, to see if my name was on there and it wasn’t there,” Alexia said. “I asked them what happened, and they said it was because I didn’t get my shots.” Alexia will return to school Tuesday.
Nena Fairbanks has two children who attend Fresno Unified and was reluctantly at the immunization clinic. She has backed away from vaccines because her son has autism.
“I know there’s a fear of a link (between vaccinations and autism). The first thing I was worried about when I heard about this law was how is this going to affect him?” she said. “I don’t think enough people know about vaccines. They just follow the lead. Not too many people actually look into it.”
600How many students have been vaccinated in the past week at Fresno Unified’s clinic
Fairbanks says she’s considered pursuing a medical exemption for her son, but it’s not easy. She lives on a low income and doesn’t have a car. She rode with a friend to the clinic on Monday.
“A waiver is so hard,” she said. “They’re taking parenting away from us, hands down.”
Gail Williams, Fresno Unified’s director of health services, is overseeing the clinics and said that few students did not have the proper vaccinations by Monday. The district has been sending letters home warning parents of the new law since last spring, and the clinic’s vaccines are provided through a state program that requires no charge for low-income families.
In the past week leading up to Monday’s first day of school, more than 600 students were vaccinated at the Fresno Unified clinic.
“The new law that has eliminated personal beliefs and religious waivers, that really has little effect on us. We don’t have huge numbers of anti-vaccine parents,” Williams said. “Who we’re seeing here today are mostly students who were supposed to get their booster for seventh grade, so when they show up at school we review our list and start calling parents saying this has to get done. We do want parents to come get them and get it taken care of so they can bring them back to school and the disruption is over with.”
The immunization clinic will be at the Adult Transition Program, 3132 E. Fairmont Ave., from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.
Upcoming first days of school in the Valley
▪ Tuesday: Washington Unified, Washington Colony, Sierra Unified, Fowler Unified, Cutler-Orosi
▪ Wednesday: Alvina Elementary Charter, Big Creek, Clay Joint, Coalinga-Huron Unified, Monte Vista School, Kings Canyon Unified, Laton Unified, Monroe, Pacific Union, Parlier Unified, Pine Ridge, Chawanakee Unified, Alta Vista, Hot Springs, Kings River, Central Union, Lemoore Union Elementary School District, Reef-Sunset Unified
▪ Thursday: Kingsburg Elementary Charter, Orange Center, Sanger Unified, Pixley, Terra Bella
▪ Aug. 22: Clovis Unified, Kingsburg Joint Union High
Other districts opened last week.