Now is the time to get free vaccinations before school starts

Free immunizations at the Back-to-school roundup at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, TX, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)
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Free immunizations at the Back-to-school roundup at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, TX, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)

Fort Worth

It’s back-to-school time, so don’t forget your kids’ shots, and slow down!

By Sandra Engelland and Diane Smith

August 12, 2017 02:05 PM

As parents prepare to send their children back to school, there’s so much to remember, and so little time.

So as school districts begin to resume classes, here are three things worth knowing:

Don’t forget the vaccinations

Preventing outbreaks of highly contagious diseases is the main reason the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County typically vaccinates between 4,000 to 5,000 children in the days leading to the start of classes.

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Last year, mumps resurfaced in North Texas, including 48 reported cases in Johnson County. The mumps outbreak struck mostly among school-age children. And many of those who were infected had received a vaccination, not all did.

“It’s important that we have herd immunity and people are the herd,” said Terri Andrews, chairman of the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County.

In Texas, children attending private or public schools or child-care facilities are required to receive a variety of immunizations. Young adults entering college also need to be aware of what vaccine they need, immunization experts say.

“Children starting kindergarten all need vaccines,” said Andrews, whose group offered immunizations at a recent Back to School Roundup event. “There are requirements for seventh grade — those are the two big groups.”

Eleven- and 12-year-olds entering seventh grade need boosters to the infant vaccines, she said.

A complete list of required immunizations is available on the Texas Health and Human Services website. School districts also have compiled vaccine information online.

Andrews said schools send letters advising about needed immunizations at the end of each school year, but it is not uncommon for families to miss those and end up seeking immunizations as the start-of-school approaches.

“Now, they are going to register their kids and they are being turned away,” she said.

Economically disadvantaged families or those lacking insurance can participate in a number of immunization events underway.

In Texas, families can seek exemptions from school immunizations for medical reasons and for reasons of conscience. Last school year, there were 52,756 conscientious exemptions, which represents about 1 percent of all students, according to a state survey. The previous school year, there were 44,716 conscientious exemptions.

What’s up with the start dates?

Most of the school districts in Tarrant County are starting before the state’s mandatory start date of Aug. 28. They’re able to get kids back in the classroom sooner because of a change the Texas Legislature made in 2015, giving public school districts extra wiggle room if they became a District of Innovation.

To become such a district, school boards adopt a resolution to declare their interest in pursuing District of Innovation status, hold a public hearing, form a committee to study possible exemptions from the Texas Education Code, vote on the exemptions and then notify the Texas Education Agency of their innovation plans.

In addition to the start date, school districts can adjust the length of the school day, increase class sizes and tweak teacher contracts, among other options.

But by far, the most popular exemption is the school start date, according to information from the Texas Association of School Boards. TASB officials say more than 98 percent of the 600 plus districts (about half in Texas) who have posted innovation plans on the TASB website have gone to an early start date.

Sixteen of 20 school districts in Tarrant County are listed as current Districts of Innovation by the state, and they’re all starting early. The four districts that do not have the designation are Aledo, Azle, Northwest and Southlake Carroll.

Many districts are starting early to make sure they can have final exams for the fall semester in December, before winter break, instead of after.

Remind me about driving in school zones

Here are the three things you need to remember: Slow down. Put away the cellphone and obey school crossing guards.

In the Keller school district, which begins Tuesday, police patrols will be heavier than usual the first few days, said Police Chief Michael Wilson.

“I'd ask people to be patient and to learn what the traffic patterns are, and that will help things go a lot smoother,” he said. “Be aware of kids walking or riding bikes so we can kick the school year off in a good way.”

Using a cellphone in school zones has been against the law in Texas since 2013 and texting while driving anywhere in Texas becomes illegal Sept. 1.

School-zone speeding tickets cost more than regular ones. In Fort Worth, the ticket increase is $25 and $55 more in Arlington.

And be mindful of school buses. State law dictates that motorists must stop and wait if the bus’s lights are flashing or the stop sign on the vehicle is out, while students get on and off the bus.

Passing a school bus that is loading or unloading is even more costly, with a state fine of up to $1,250 for a first-time offense.

Sandra J. Engelland: 817-390-7323, @SandraEngelland

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1