The Santa Fe school board on Tuesday evening is scheduled to discuss policies related to public health concerns about vaccinations and student use of electronic cigarettes.
Board member Steven Carrillo says he wants to pursue new guidelines under which Santa Fe Public Schools would publicize online the percentage of students at each school who have received exemptions from state requirements for immunizations.
“I think parents would appreciate the opportunity to know how many students in their kid’s schools are getting these waivers for vaccinations,” Carrillo said in a phone interview.
New Mexico law requires all children enrolling in day care or school to have certain immunizations. Parents can apply for exemptions through the Department of Health for either medical or religious reasons. This school year, according to the department, 4,346 students received a waiver. Since 2012, the state agency says, the number of exemptions has increased by 60 percent.
In cases of religious exemptions, parents can either obtain a letter from a church officer explaining their anti-vaccination beliefs or they can complete a “certification of exemption” form. Department of Health officials told The New Mexican last month that most parents seeking a waiver opt for the latter. Through that form, parents sign a personal affidavit that affirms their religious beliefs do not permit the administration of vaccines to their child.
“If not vaccinating your kid is a growing trend,” Carrillo said, “then it’s something we should help parents be aware of.”
Health emergencies elsewhere have heightened concerns about people who aren’t vaccinated. Last week, officials in Rockland County, N.Y., banned anyone who is both under the age of 18 and unvaccinated against measles from entering public places. The county has been dealing with an outbreak of the once-vanquished contagious disease that since October has produced over 150 cases, the Associated Press reported.
In late January, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency after 26 confirmed measles cases in a southwestern county. Since then, the number of cases has jumped to 73, with infections in more than 50 children 10 and younger, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Also on the school board’s agenda is a discussion about rules and compliance related to electronic cigarettes. Like all tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and vaporizers are banned on Santa Fe Public Schools campuses. This school year, Santa Fe High principal Carl Marano says, the majority of discipline issues at the school have been related to electronic cigarettes.
“It’s definitely a rampant issue, not only in our community but statewide and nationwide,” Marano said. “I don’t think some students and parents understand the dangers of electronic cigarettes and the ways companies are using flavors and other marketing to make a financial gain off our young people.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, electronic cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, but most still contain nicotine, which is addictive. A 2018 study by the CDC found that 4.9 percent of middle school students and 20.8 percent of high school students used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days.
Currently at Santa Fe High, Marano says, students caught with electronic cigarettes are given an in-school suspension for the first offense and a suspension for the second.
“If it’s a repeated offense, the student either has an addiction or is just oblivious to policy,” Marano said. “I think stakeholders in our community need to be aware that this is an issue and see what we can do to come together as a community to say ‘let’s stop.’ ”
The board meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Educational Service Center, 610 Alta Vista St.