Tag Archives: students

Is your school ready for measles?

I was wondImage of sign at public school announcing measles outbreakering 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.

To make it easier for parents, I have made a list, by state, on how to get school-based vaccination data. There are gaps, however. Some states have websites so poorly organized that I couldn’t find it (if you know it, send me the link, please). And some states I contacted said they don’t publish the data but said I could just contact schools directly. Finally, some states claim they cannot release the data due to privacy concerns. FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) clearly prevents a school from releasing the names of the kids who are non-vaccinated (for example), but it does not prevent schools from sharing the overall vaccination rate. States and schools citing FERPA just need to be educated about this, which is partly why I’m compiling this list (parents can share it with school officials who didn’t get the memo).

If the links below don’t work, try asking your school principal for the data. (Don’t ask the school nurse, because s/he’ll will instinctively cite FERPA.) When you get your data, please share it with other parents in your community via Facebook or Nextdoor. Only communities that know their vaccination coverage can determine whether they are prepared for disease outbreaks. If your school has rates below 96%, parents need to formally request to school board and principals that fewer exemptions be granted. Yes, the principal can deny requests if they are unwarranted.

Alabama (I could only find county data)
Alaska (I can’t find anything; maybe too cold for viruses?)

Kentucky (county data)
Maine (have to ask your school nurse)
Montana (county data)

Nebraska (need to ask your school, Health Dept said HIPPA prevents schools from releasing data)
Nevada (they are working on this right now; until then, ask school)
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico (ask State Dept of Education)
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Pennsylvania (county data in PDF near bottom)

Rhode Island
South Carolina (see PDF at bottom of page)
South Dakota
Tennessee (partial county data)
Texas (district data)
Utah (district data; ask school, and if they balk, contact this person for help)
West Virginia (ask this person for PDF)
Wisconsin (district data; county)


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Junk food vending machines in public schools

I’m amazed that we are well into 2014 and schools can still sell junk food to students in vending machines. Below are four photographs just in case you haven’t been to school recently.  In first, some breakfast cereals: Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Krispies, and Apple Jacks, with 37%, 40%, and 43% sugar, respectively.  I’m sure that the Vending Machine Committee for this school decided that if they avoided Kellogg’s Honey Smacks (55.6% sugar), they could argue that the actual offerings are “healthier options.”  Photographs 2 and 3 show candy and chips.  Photograph 4 is for viewers interested in obesity among minorities.

In Pennsylvania (where photographs were taken), 15.9% of high school students are overweight.  11.8% of adolescents are obese.  With rates that high, many students don’t even need healthier forms of calories — they need to stop snacking.  Vending machines promote snacking.

Colin Purrington Photography: Obesity &emdash; junk-food-vending

Colin Purrington Photography: Obesity &emdash; public-school-vending-machine-radnor

Colin Purrington Photography: Obesity &emdash; junk-food-school-vending-machine

Colin Purrington Photography: Obesity &emdash; public-school-vending-machines

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Graphic for reducing plagiarism in lectures

Plagiarism examplesThere are multiple reasons why students plagiarize more these days, but one cause that is never discussed is that students spend all day watching their teachers do it.  So, if you happen to be in position of minor influence in the education world, here’s a graphic to use in your next lecture, to get lecturers to better model the use of quotation marks and citations to their students. Following the conventions detailed on the slide certainly adds to the visual elements of a slide, which is annoying, but I argue that it’s important to send the message that lecturers value other people’s intellectual work. By the way, the quotation example is from Donald McCabe (PDF), who does great research on plagiarism. I chose the quote so that the slide can do double duty, communicating to teachers that their apathy has consequences. Also by the way, I made this graphic for my “Preventing plagiarism” page. If, by chance, you have no importance in the educational world, please consider sending this to those that do.


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