Tag Archives: public

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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Happy “Get Confused about Antibiotics Week”

The CDC designated this week as “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week.” I know, pretty exciting.

Although I’m all on board with awareness, and its goal (reducing resistance evolution in bacteria), I think the people at the CDC are actively ignoring an insanely easy way to educate the public: simply stop using the word “antibiotic,” and instead say “antibacterial”. E.g., people at the CDC should open up all their Word documents and web pages and do a global search/replace. Would take a week to fix the formatting changes caused by the extra characters. The cost of doing this would probably be much less than what they spend getting all those cartoons for their posters on antibiotics.

The reason I suggest this is that most people assume antibiotics work against viruses. And who can blame them? It’s what the word use to mean. Below is a sample definition from 1910:

Definition of antibioticand here’s what a Google search displays:

Definition of antibioticOf course, the CDC loves the word “antibiotics.” And thus it would take an Executive Order to get them to do what I suggest. But if you agree with me and eventually become President, could you please consider sending them that memo?? You’d make me happy, and save a lot of lives.

More details at “Curbing the misuse of antibiotics.”

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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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Graphic images from the antibiotic resistance movement

If you need an image for a talk on antibiotics, please help yourself to anything on my Pinterest board, “Antibiotic Resistance Movement.”

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Sidewalk creeps

[PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT]  Last week, I witnessed a visually impaired man with a cane walk right into some overgrown hedges while he was heading into town.  Clearly surprised, he decided to cross the street before continuing on his way.  So I thought I’d post a plea for all of us who have sidewalks to please hack back any creeping shrubs, hostas, and dandelions so that our public walkways are fully walkable by all — not just for the visually impaired, but also for those with twin babies in double strollers, and for couples who just want to hold hands while walking next to each other. Currently, double-wide strollers and hand-holders need to walk in the street, which is crazy given that our town has fairly wide sidewalks.  A further benefit of keeping your plants out of the sidewalk airspace is that the foliage doesn’t provide the perfect lurking spot for deer ticks, questing for a host with their hungry little arthropod arms. Yea, that last reason is far-fetched, perhaps, but we have lots of deer and mice and dogs, so it’s just something to think about as you brush by the leaves.

Hedges partially obstructing a sidewalk.  Residents with double strollers, with vision impairment, and with wheelchairs cannot easily use sidewalks like this.  Also, couples who might want to take a walk while holding hands are forced to abandon their true love to navigate the stretch, which is sad. Finally, in areas with deer and mice, overhanging foliage provide the perfect questing site for ticks.

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