Chicken pox forces unvaccinated kids out of Falmouth school for 16 days

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FALMOUTH — Elementary school children who have not been vaccinated against chicken pox or have not had the virus will not be allowed to attend Lunt School until at least Nov. 15 because of an outbreak of the disease.

Parents of Lunt School children who have not been vaccinated against varicella, commonly known as chicken pox, received phone calls Friday from the school nurse, who told them their children cannot attend school until 16 calendar days after the last confirmed case.

“When children are not immunized against a disease, it is state law that they cannot attend school when there is an outbreak,” Lunt School Nurse Sue Raatikainen said. She added that the schools respect the rights of parents who choose not to vaccinate.

Raatikainen, citing medical confidentiality laws, on Friday morning would not reveal how many children at Lunt have the disease, nor how many in the school are not immunized. Raatikainen did say that the number of children being excluded from school is “very, very low.”

One parent of two Lunt School students said Raatikainen told her that two children had come down with the disease.

State law says that children who not vaccinated can be excluded from school for 16 days from when the first case of chicken pox is reported. And each time a new case is reported, the 16-day exclusion can be restarted.

Decisions to exclude non-vaccinated children, and to allow them back into school, must be made by a public health official at the state Center for Disease Control. Raatikainen said that in this instance, she confirmed the chicken pox diagnosis with a physician, and then called the CDC, which guided her through the process.

Children who have been told to stay home can return to school immediately if they are vaccinated.

Although other communicable diseases like measles and rubella have fallen under the exclusion rule since the 1980s, the state Department of Education did not begin enforcing the chicken pox exclusion until 2007. The chicken pox vaccine became widely in the U.S. in the mid-1990s.

Chicken pox in children is considered a mild illness, although it is highly contagious.

Kate Bucklin contributed to this story. Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or