Tag Archives: data

Is your school ready for measles?

I was wondering that, so I asked the school nurse what percentage of the students at our local high school were unvaccinated, and how many had non-medical exemptions. Here’s her response:

“We are unable to provide this information to you because it is in violation of the FERPA laws.”

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prohibits the release of any information that identifies students. For example, schools cannot release the names of students who are unvaccinated due to philosophical objections of parents. But an aggregate statistic like % unvaccinated does not identify the unvaccinated students, so FERPA is not a concern. Indeed, dozens of states put their vaccination statistics in searchable databases to make it easy for parents to see. And these databases don’t just show a % — the spreadsheet usually provides the numbers of students at each school with medical, religious, and personal exemptions. And for states that don’t publish these data on behalf of schools, parents can just contact their kids’ schools and ask for the information. Unfortunately, some schools use the FERPA card as a way to hide information that might generate criticism of the school’s readiness for, say, a measles outbreak. 

Here’s the thing: parents need to know this percentage. If measles were to come to a school next week, can parents still send their children into school? What if a student has a medical exemption — is the herd immunity strong (perhaps 96% vaccinated), or is it dismal (50%)? Only when the parents know these data can they assess whether the school is safe.

By the way, the school principal is ultimately responsible for granting vaccination exemptions to the parents who request them. For example, a principal can (and should) refuse medical exemptions if the reasoning is ignorant (“I don’t want my kid to get autism”). Similarly, religious and philosophical objections can be rejected if they are baseless or contrived. For example, a parent might write, “The Pope would be displeased if my kid was vaccinated”, and the principal is allowed to reject that claim because it’s demonstrably untrue. Low vaccination rates at a school, therefore, are not just a reflection of who lives in the area — they can reveal problems in how exemptions are granted.

I suspect there are millions of parents around the country asking for the same information and getting the same answer from their schools. So I’ve posted a list of where to get school vaccination data, organized by state, at “We need transparency of school vaccinations rates“. It’s a draft, so if you have suggestions on how I can fill in the many gaps, please get in touch with me.

Image of sign at public school announcing measles outbreak

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Americans credit supernatural entity for human origin

The Pew Research Center just released poll data on how adults in the United States explain the existence of humans: 57% believe that a supernatural being created humans either gradually, through artificial selection, or instantly, in a single poof.  If you teach biology in public school, you should be addressing this ignorance.  If you need resources, here are disclaimers for biology textbooks, Charles Darwin Has a Posse stickers, and a Portable Darwin for your classroom.

human-origins-pew-2013

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Charts with bling

Just a silly pie chart I created for “Designing conference posters” to argue that graphs with illustrations can help viewers absorb results a bit faster than those with just labels and legends. (Please note that although the graphic is a tad silly, the data are real: less than 10% of Americans accept that humans evolved without supernatural help.)

Gallup poll on evolution of humans

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