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Gov. Jerry Brown wants to kill my daughter.

I know this to be true, because my mom posted a story about it late last week on one of her Facebook pages (for unknown reasons, she has multiple pages): California Mandates Poisoning Children: SB 277 Vaccine Bill Passes.

Learning Curve-01

The story, of course, refers to legislation that eliminates personal and religious exemptions to the state law mandating kids get a series of vaccinations before they enter school. On Tuesday, Gov. Brown signed the bill into law.

My mom wasn’t the only skeptic. Comedian Jim Carrey also raised important points, which he delivered in a fair and measured way via Twitter.

California Gov says yes to poisoning more children with mercury and aluminum in manditory vaccines. This corporate fascist must be stopped.

— Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) July 1, 2015

The story, probably brought to us by Hollywood insiders, is that Carrey joined the anti-vaxxer movement after dating Jenny McCarthy, whose son’s autism she’s linked to vaccines. That’s only important insofar as it illustrates a belief that vaccines cause autism, a link that’s been debunked by pretty much every credible scientist. Still, the belief holds strong in a very vocal minority.

The conversation has been happening since the late ’90s, but it was renewed earlier this year after 134 people contracted measles after an outbreak at Disneyland. According to the CDC, of the 110 California patients, about half were unvaccinated. Some were too young to have gotten vaccinated, but of the patients who were eligible, 67 percent had opted out due to personal beliefs.

In last week’s Learning Curve, after the California Assembly approved one of the toughest mandatory vaccines laws in the nation, I was a little tongue-in-cheek about anti-vaccine movement. This is nothing new. I’m tongue-in-cheek about most everything (including Brown’s plan to personally murder my daughter).

Christine Kuglen, a leader of a local charter school, took issue with my jokes. She sent me an email expressing concern that I seemed supportive of vaccines, despite concerns raised in “Trace Amounts,” a documentary that explored the link between autism and vaccine additives.

She also sent me a wide-ranging list of questions, wondering whether pharmaceutical companies, driven by profits, were the real reason SB277 moved forward; or if it was even morally justified for the government to mandate health care decisions.

In the interest of scope and clarity, I can’t tackle all of Kuglen’s questions. So I decided to make sort of an amalgam question, and go from there.

Question: What is the justification for ending vaccine exemptions for personal or religious beliefs? – Christine Kuglen, director and cofounder of Innovations Academy

I knew there was backlash to the vaccine bill, but I had no idea until recently how deep the rabbit hole went.

This commentary from Robin Abcarian at the L.A. Times outlines it pretty well: Two pro-vaccine lobbyists have been stalked and harassed. State Sen. Richard Pan, SB 277’s co-author, has been threatened with a noose. Nation of Islam Minister Keith Muhammed, likening the bill to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, has vowed to protect children by any means necessary.

Wow. Take a breath. (Although, to anti-vaxxers’ credit, Sacramento Bee found that Big Medicine has indeed donated millions to California lawmakers before the vaccine debate, including $95,000 to Pan).

But let’s talk about what has to happen for schoolkids. It’s actually pretty basic.

It’s been a long standing policy that children can’t enter school unless they can verify they’ve been immunized against 10 diseases, including whooping cough, polio, measles and chicken pox. Records are checked when kids enter school, and again when they enter seventh grade. Rules allow for a 30-day grace period if kids don’t have all their shots, but the district can turn students away if they’re not vaccinated.

There have typically been two exemptions to this: If students can provide some sort of evidence that vaccines could pose a health risk, due to a pre-existing condition, for example; or if parents complete a form indicating that vaccines clash with their personal or religious beliefs. The second exemption is what’s going away.

The law goes into effect in July 2016. According to a helpful EdSource Q-and-A, elementary school kids who have a personal belief exemption on file will be “grandfathered” in until the next vaccine checkpoint, meaning they don’t necessarily have to rush to be immunized. But they’ll have to be vaccinated by the time they enter seventh grade.

The number of unvaccinated kindergarteners is relatively small. According to inewsource, which has done a lot of great work on this topic, about 8 percent of San Diego County kindergarteners were unvaccinated at the start of the 2014-2015 school year. That’s a slight decrease from the previous year. About half of those kids filed personal belief exemptions. (Check out a map of vaccination rates, by school.)

Kuglen, who sent in the question, leads a charter school. Charters have some of the highest percentages of unvaccinated kids in San Diego Unified. Several years ago, a measles outbreak was traced back to a kid who’d contracted the illness on a trip to Europe, then spread it to classmates at San Diego Cooperative Charter.

Most interesting is that the parents who had problems with vaccinations more often the most educated. This leads to my favorite quote of Joe Yerardi’s article, when an infectious disease specialist from UCLA told him, referring to parents who opt-out: “The whole middle aisles of Whole Foods Markets are selling crap. And these are the people who go there.” (In your eye, Whole Foods.)

As a professor at La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology told Yerardi the decision for parents on whether to vaccinate their kids is really based in fear. There’s the fear of measles and mumps – illnesses that were common at one time, but which vaccines have all but eradicated – versus fear of side effects and adverse reactions vaccines can potentially trigger. In an internet world, where we can find just about any information to confirm our deepest insecurities, adverse reactions can seem more real than measles.

The voices in this debate who are perhaps most difficult to ignore are those like Laura Hayes, parents whose children have autism or other learning disabilities that they link to vaccines. To these parents, the damage done by vaccines is very, very real. Unfortunately, the science just isn’t on their side. On the contrary, an overwhelming amount of credible evidence tells us that – save for rare complications – vaccines are safe, and that a vaccinated school is much safer than an unvaccinated school.

None of this is to say that parents aren’t rightly concerned with substances injected into their children’s bodies. But parents also have a right to send their kids to school and not worry about an unvaccinated child spreading illness. Even if a child is vaccinated, it’s still possible for him or her to catch something. And very young kids aren’t old enough to have gotten all their shots, so they’re the most at risk.

Ed Reads of the Week

• Protect Students from Corporate Data Mining in the Classroom (National Review)

We’ve talked a lot about the use of technology in the classroom, but most of those conversations tend to hover around spending on the devices themselves.

In this article, a writer for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity says there’s another big factor parents should keep in mind when it comes to classroom tech: Schools could be selling kids’ personal info to marketing companies.

“School technology systems have a massive amount of data on both students and parents. With the increase in high-tech classrooms and online education, schools not only have records of test scores, absences, and parent income, they also have data on the specific kinds of questions students struggle with and how long it takes students to complete assignments. Such data are greatly improving the quality of education students receive, but we need to ensure the information is safeguarded.”

• 7 Solutions That Would Improve Graduation Rates (NPR)

NPR decided to mine the collective brain power of some education policy experts it heard from following a big report on what’s driving higher graduation rates.

They distilled the results in this handy post. Some of them are common sense, like coordinating with universities to determine what standards should be, and making them more uniform. “What if what counted in a diploma in a state is what an institution of higher education in that state would recognize for admission?” asks John Gomperts, CEO of America’s Promise Alliance.

Others are more philosophical – like not focusing so intensely on graduation rates to begin with.

• Ditch the School Reserve Cap (L.A. Times editorial board)

First off, this is an editorial, so keep in mind that you’re reading that it’s arguing for a specific outcome. That said, the piece also does a good job of explaining the basic tensions surrounding schools’ reserve funds, how the money can be spent and who gets to decide.

Referring to the so-called Local Control Funding Formula, the Times points out that “restricting the amount school districts can save is antithetical to everything the governor has done to empower them to use their money as they see fit.”

Mario Koran

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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