Chickenpox prompts Yarmouth school to send students home

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YARMOUTH — Five children who have not been vaccinated were sent home after two cases of chickenpox were diagnosed at Rowe School.

Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff on Tuesday said there have been two cases of chickenpox in the past two weeks at the school, which houses students in kindergarten and first grade.

Some of the five children will be out of school for up to 16 calendar days. Two of the children will be allowed back to school earlier because they have already receive the first of two chickenpox vaccinations. The other three children, whose parents are choosing not to vaccinate them for medical or religious reasons, will be allowed to come back to school after 16 days.

Dolloff said the decision to remove the unvaccinated children was made by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Under state law, schools have to report chickenpox, and other cases of infectious disease, to the CDC, which defines three or more cases of an infectious disease at one location as an “outbreak.”

The children with chickenpox will be able to come back to school a week after they became ill. These are the first reported cases of chickenpox or any other infectious disease at Rowe School.

Dolloff said it’s not uncommon for schools to see cases of chickenpox.

“I’ve been a superintendent for eight years, and I bet I’ve seen at least one kid a year,” he said.

Dolloff has been Yarmouth’s superintendent for the past two years, and said the district had cases of chickenpox last year that also prompted unvaccinated children to be sent home.

This year, only 2 percent of the Rowe School’s 200 students opted out of the chickenpox vaccine. Dolloff said he’s uncertain what the opt-out rate specifically for chickenpox was last year, but the overall opt-out rate for any kind of vaccination was 3.6 percent.

Dolloff said the schools are talking to children about the importance of washing their hands and good hygiene so that more cases of chickenpox don’t arise. Vaccinated children can still get the virus, but the case won’t be as severe.

Dolloff said the school janitors are also ensuring that the schools are sanitized.

“We do spend a great deal of time with our custodial staff, making sure they’re cleaning common areas as well as possible, and making sure students are washing their hands and letting us know when they feel sick,” he said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.