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The General Assembly has passed a bill requiring health assessments for all kids entering North Carolina public schools.
By Rachel Herzog
Parents sending their kids to North Carolina public schools for the first time this August will face slightly different health assessment and vaccine regulations.
Previously, North Carolina required health assessments for kids entering kindergarten, but those entering the public school system at any other grade were exempt.
The North Carolina House and Senate hammered out their differences on House Bill 13, and sent it to Gov. Pat McCrory last week.
“If children do come into North Carolina’s system at a grade other than kindergarten [and] have a hearing impairment or eyesight impairment, maybe those can be treated early,” said primary sponsor Rep. John Torbett (R-Stanley).
Torbett said he wanted to push the measure to allow kids to reach their full potential.
‘We haven’t been doing that?’
Sen. Jeff Tarte (R-Cornelius) said he supported the bill and didn’t think there would be much opposition.
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[/pullquote_right]“It is merely capturing some of the stuff that goes on in a doctor’s office that’s basically primary clinical input and making sure it gets into a school’s record appropriately,” Tarte said.
Torbett said a constituent back home brought the issue to his attention. Most people he talked to about the bill didn’t realize that kids entering at grade levels above kindergarten weren’t assessed.
“It’s kind of funny,” he said. “They’ve got this look on their face, ‘We haven’t been doing that?’”
The bill would not require kids entering private or religious charter schools to undergo assessments.
Lisa Cassidy-Vu, assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said the new requirements match the recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She said she hopes the bill will improve the administration of the meningococcal vaccine, which prevents meningitis, in particular for teens and young adults who are heading off to college. The vaccine is now required along with the already-mandatory combined tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, or Tdap, vaccines.
Two varicella, or chickenpox, vaccines are now required for kindergarteners, as is the last dose of the polio vaccine, before entering school for the first time.
“I haven’t had any pushback from these vaccines,” Cassidy-Vu said. “I think they are less controversial than some others, such as those for HPV prevention, and so they are readily accepted.”
Tarte said the bill would help make sure schools and providers have access to updated and accurate information on each child’s health status.
“If a kid has a health issue, it’s good to know about it up front,” he said. “If something develops or turns into an acute situation, the school’s prepared to deal with that kid.”
Torbett said that during committee hearings, legislators expressed concerns about kids not having access to health care to receive these assessments, but he said access is a bigger issue that will exist whether or not the bill is passed.
“If you have that concern, that concern’s already existed,” he said.
Cassidy-Vu said the new regulations could actually make it easier for kids to get access to health care.
“The great thing is that anyone without a primary care physician or with financial strain can be seen at their local health department and receive the necessary immunizations free of charge,” she said.