Tag Archives: God

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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Evolution of religions

Nothing in religion makes sense except in the light of imagination.

I posted this graphic on Flickr in 2006, but thought I’d re-post here since I’d long ago stopped using Flickr.  It shows how religions might have evolved from pre-existing religions, which in turn evolved from the early myths of our prehuman ancestors.  If you are a religion buff, you are no doubt frothing at the mouth because of all the mistakes I’ve made … in my defense, it was just a quick sketch because I needed an “evolution of religions” slide for a talk and I couldn’t locate one on the internet thingy.

Evolution of religions

If you’re interested in the evolution of religions among primates, check this out:

McClenon, J.  1997.  Shamanic healing, human evolution, and the origin of religion.  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 36:345-354. JSTOR

By the way, my lead sentence is just a riffing on the phrase and article by Dobzhansky, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

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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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