ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) - Rochester school officials say 71 students were barred from classes Wednesday because they haven't been immunized or gotten exemptions.
The district told KARE 11 that 80 of its nearly 18,000 students failed to submit the required immunization documentation or paperwork to get an exemption by Wednesday's deadline.
During the course of the day, 9 of those students were able to produce the paperwork and return to class. Those who reported to school weren't allowed into their classrooms, but were allowed to stay in their buildings until parents or other authorized adults could take them home.
Each was sent home with a letter reiterating that the student may not attend school until the required documentation is submitted. Exemptions can be given for medical or religious reasons, or even if a parent conscientiously opposes vaccines.
The district says its procedures strike a balance between enforcing the state's immunization requirements and protecting students' right to an education.
One board member who voted for this measure says he still has problems with it, particularly when state law does not require students to be vaccinated. It simply requires vaccine records or an exemption form to be turned into administrators.
“I’m disappointed we have to do what we have to do to comply with the law,” said Rochester School Board Member Gary Smith. "I don't like the fact that there's any kids not in school today because they simply didn't comply with the form or get the shot. When we know we have kids who are in school who are not immunized."
There already are kids in the school district who are not immunized, because their parents signed an exemption form. Minnesota law allows parents to skip vaccines for religious reasons or personal beliefs.
So that begs the question, why was it so important for Rochester Schools to make this move? When pointed out that the only ones being punished are the students who didn't turn in paperwork, not the ones who didn't get vaccinated, Smith replied, "That's true. I can't argue with that. I think its an untenable situation period."
And when asked why the district decided to do this in the middle of the school year rather than at the beginning, or waiting until fall, Smith replied, "All good questions."
Smith says simply, the district's attorneys advised that they enforce Minnesota's law.
"I look at that as absurdity of the law itself," Smith said.
The school board voted unanimously to do this, but Smith was the only one who would explain the board's process to KARE 11.
The superintendent was out of town and not made available for interviews. And School Board Chair Julia Workman hung up on reporter Lou Raguse when reached over the phone for questions.