Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 29 2011

vaccines are a legal matter

In recent days I’ve made the biggest administrative mistake of my teaching career. It’s more embarrassing than awful.

To enter the seventh grade, my students have to get a Tdap vaccine. The health department offered to come to the school to give them out. They are free. We gave out forms (which a sub gave out without my permission, likely encouraged by my kids, so God knows if all my students even got it…) and had to collect them. I did so. They sat in a manila folder on my bookshelf. And sat. And sat. For about two weeks.

On Monday or Tuesday of this week, it was vaccine day. They made some announcement about it in the morning that I tuned out. I tend to tune out all announcements, because about 5% of them deal directly with my classroom or my students. When they are important, my students angrily repeat them to me about 500 times. It may not be the best checks and balances, but it’s better than hanging on every word of 6 to 12 announcements daily.

About a quarter through vaccine day one of my more boisterous students offered to take my forms to the nurse. She later came in saying, “Miss Lauren [nurse] said we missed the vaccine.” I didn’t really listen to what she was saying, or maybe I didn’t comprehend it. At lunch Miss Lauren was at my door, pulling me into the hallway.

She explained that the vaccines were given and because there were no forms for my students, none of my students were given the vaccine. 16 of my students were supposed to get it. Sixteen sets of parents that may or may not live in my town, that may or may not work during clinic hours, that may or may not be hugely inconvenienced by my mistake of not turning in forms when I was supposed to. I immediately offered to write a letter. I asked if she could call the health department and she shook her head no, which to me meant there was no way the health department would come back.

I spear-headed an immediate effort to get them back. Over the next two days, I called the health department, then our local health center, then the district supervisor that is in charge of planning all of this. They were understanding. They agreed to come back in. They asked for me to fax a list of the students. I was a bit proud of myself, and a bit surprised that I did all of this and so quickly and that I was the only person in my school that knew what I was doing. Something felt off, but I was relieved overall that my students could get this shot during school hours.

This morning I found out another teacher also didn’t get her forms in time, which meant over 20% of the 6th grade missed this shot whose parents expected them to get it. Unfair? I thought so. I was glad I called. However!

However, when said teacher called the same district supervisor I did, she was informed that there was “some trouble” because we didn’t do this through the school nurse. Here I am, thinking I’m saving her work. However.

We go to the nurses office more than once, she is not there. I had attempted to talk to her yesterday afternoon and this morning, but she was never in the office. I left a note this morning explaining what was going on. This afternoon BOTH school nurses (the one from the high school and my school), and my principal were at my door. They looked a bit like concerned mothers, ready to give me a talking to.

I learned many things. Like I cannot schedule anything health related without telling my principal (this makes much sense, I agree). I also learned that it wasn’t that the nurses couldn’t get the health department back, they just didn’t want to. Not in an accusing way– they might have super full plates, or see it as not worth the effort? Or place complete blame on me and other 6th grade teacher and think we need to endure consequences, or some other reason I don’t understand because this is way more convenient to provide at school than make all 30-something parents drive to the health center independently… but the nurse didn’t call the health department herself on purpose. I wasn’t making less work for her, I was making more work for her.


I learned that this is a legal matter, because if for some reason a kid gets a vaccine who has already had it it’s a health hazard. Also some of my kids’ forms were not completely filled out, which I didn’t know. All the paperwork has to be checked and re-checked, etc etc.

This whole situation is embarrassing, but. But the result is that, ta da, the health department IS going to come back. My kids with incomplete paperwork do get to get extra time to get it fixed so they can get the shot. When I walk by the nurses office I may slightly bow my head and not say hello because I feel so bad for the remainder of the year. But, this is horribly selfish and TFA-esque, but it’s for the kids. Right? All this extra work and hassle I created… in the end it benefits the kids and their parents. So it’s worth it?

This situation was definitely NOT worth this much explanation, but I’m posting as is anyway. As usual.

Note to self: next time kids turn in forms (especially health-related) be sure to know WHERE they are due and WHEN.

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