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Non-vaccinated Portage and Baraboo students who haven’t turned in a waiver by the first month of school this fall will be kept out of class for up to 10 days, a requirement for districts that fall below a certain threshold.

Wisconsin school districts report the percentage of students in compliance with the Wisconsin Student Immunization Law — by having either the required vaccinations or a signed waiver — each year. Those with less than 99% compliance that year have to exclude noncompliant students the next year.

Portage reached a compliance rate of 98.58% in 2018-19, “and they don’t round up,” said Student Services Director Barb Wolfe. She said the district last fell below the threshold five years ago.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services data shows Baraboo School District’s rate was 97.11% this year and 97.67% last year. According to Student Services Director Michele Yates-Wickus, the district had met the 99% requirement in 2016-17.

If a Portage or Baraboo student hasn’t been immunized and hasn’t turned in a signed waiver by Oct. 15, they won’t be able to attend school the next day. That exclusion will continue for up to 10 days or until the student meets one of the requirements.

Any students who remain noncompliant after those 10 days would get to return to school “just because this makes no sense,” Wolfe said. However, she noted that missing any more school would start the truancy process in Portage because they would have used all of their excused absences. Baraboo also has a limit of 10 absences.

“Typically, you don’t see kids stay out like that … because they either can get the immunizations or they can sign the waiver” claiming exemption due to health, religious or personal conviction reasons, Wolfe said.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, other area school districts reported the following compliance rates in 2018-19:

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  • Lodi: 100
  • Montello: 96.69
  • Pardeeville: 99.27
  • Reedsburg: 99.27
  • Rio: 98.03
  • Sauk Prairie: 100.00
  • Wisconsin Dells: 99.72

In addition to Portage and Baraboo, Montello and Rio school districts will have to exclude noncompliant students next year.

If not claiming a waiver, students are required to receive vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP); polio; hepatitis B; measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); and chickenpox in pre-kindergarten and elementary school. In grade six, they are required to get the Tdap vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis.

Wolfe said Portage’s lower rate this year comes mostly from the middle and high school levels because of the relatively recent addition of the Tdap vaccine requirement. Complicating the matter is that doctors recommend a wellness exam at seventh grade, so parents don’t realize they should — or don’t want to — bring their children in for an immunization the year before, she said.

Some students never get that sixth-grade immunization, and as long as the districtwide compliance rate is at least 99%, they aren’t kept out of school. But that rate would drop each year as more students reach sixth grade and others continue to forgo immunization, Wolfe said.

“Some people have the belief that it’s not OK (to vaccinate), but they don’t sign the paper to say that,” Wolfe said. “And some just don’t get to it for whatever reason.”

Districts will continue to contact families who aren’t in compliance with the law, including by mailing legal notices in September and October. Reminders are already being sent out in Baraboo, according to Yates-Wickus.

“It’s never our district’s interest to want to exclude kids, and so if families who have a question or are in this situation contact the school, we would really appreciate that so that we don’t have to exclude anyone,” Wolfe said.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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