School District of Philadelphia headquarters at 440 N. Broad St.

Stephanie Laws’ son almost got slapped with a suspension from school earlier this year — but not because of any misbehavior on his part.

The 10 year old attends the Universal Charter School at Bluford. Six months into the academic year, Laws said school officials reached out and claimed she hadn’t properly vaccinated her son in accordance with school district rules. They said he would be suspended if she didn’t get it done..

“I was like, ‘Suspended?’” Laws recalled. “He had to have these in order to start school, and now you’re saying he doesn’t have them?”

The immunization requirements for the School District of Philadelphia are no joke. District spokesperson Megan Lello confirmed that students are supposed to get their shots before the first day of school.  And per state mandated policy, any kids without boosters are liable for total “exclusion.”

In Laws’ case, it turns out there was some sort of clerical error. She had had her son vaccinated in August — before the school year began — and officials likely just misplaced his records. The West Philly mother of four made a special appointment with her pediatrician to get new proof of immunization.

“He wasn’t kicked out for any duration, but it was an inconvenience,” she said. “I had to change my schedule up.”

Have kids in public school? Now’s the time to check if they have all the required immunizations. Seriously, now — like, in the next three weeks. Otherwise, you risk them getting the boot.

“It’s a requirement,” said Kristen Feemster, director of research for CHOP’s Vaccine Education Center. “if the student doesn’t have everything they need, they may not be able to attend school until they’re up to date.”

School district vaccination requirements

Public school rules mandate that your kids are boostered up, at the latest, in the first five days of school.

The Affordable Care Act requires new insurance options to cover preventative care, like vaccines for children. So most health plans, including Medicaid, will cover them at no cost.

Here’s a rundown of every vaccination they’ll need.

Before kindergarten

  • Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis
  • Polio
  • Rubella, measles, mumps (we’re looking at you, Temple)
  • Hepatitis B (FYI, you’re supposed to get hep A immunity before age two — but if either you or your kids didn’t, the city is offering free ones because of the current public health emergency)
  • Chickenpox

Before 7th grade

  • Meningococcal disease
  • A re-up on the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis

Before 12th grade

  • A re-up on the meningococcal disease

And that’s all pretty standard, per Feemster.

“Generally speaking, these requirements reflect all of the vaccines that are routinely recommended for children,” she said. “The requirements we have here in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are similar in many ways to other states.”

The 2017 overhaul

Pennsylvania’s school vaccination rules haven’t always been so strict. They were overhauled wholesale two years ago.

The mandate for high school seniors to get a second meningitis vaccine is the most recent new shot added to the list. Before 2017, that wasn’t required, Feemster said — despite teens’ propensity for spreading infectious diseases through kissing.

There also used to be a much more relaxed time-frame for getting everything done.

Laws, whose son almost got suspended, vaccinates her children every August in order to meet the “within 5 days” requirement. The school checks them at the start of the year, she said, and then again six months later, which is when her son’s supposed discrepancy was found.

Under old state law, her son wouldn’t have been in trouble at all. Officials used to allow a whopping eight months for all kids to get vaccinated. That’s 80 percent of the 10-month academic calendar — so kids could have gone unprotected from certain illnesses for the majority of the school year.

“At the time I think the Pennsylvania had one of the longest provisional periods in the country,” Feemster said. “They made the decision to shorten it so we can make sure kids are up to date.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...