Scores of grumbling parents facing a threat of jail lined up at a courthouse Saturday to either prove that their school-age kids already had their required vaccinations or see that the youngsters submitted to the needle.
The get-tough policy in the Washington suburbs of Prince George's County was one of the strongest efforts made by any U.S. school system to ensure its youngsters receive their required immunizations.
Two months into the school year, school officials realized that more than 2,000 students in the county still didn't have the vaccinations they were supposed to have before attending class.
So Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols ordered parents in a letter to appear at the courthouse Saturday and either get their children vaccinated on the spot or risk up to 10 days in jail. They could also provide proof of vaccination or an explanation why their kids didn't have them.
By about 8:30 a.m., the line of parents stretched outside the courthouse in the county on the east side of Washington.
Many of them complained that their children already were properly immunized but the school system had misplaced the records. They said efforts to get the paperwork straightened out had been futile.
"It was very intimidating," Territa Wooden of Largo said of the letter. She said she presented the paperwork at the courthouse Saturday and resolved the matter.
"I could be home asleep. My son had his shots," said Veinell Dickens of Upper Marlboro, who also blamed errant paperwork.
Aloma Martin of Fort Washington brought her children, Delontay and Taron, in 10th and 6th grade, for their hepatitis shots. She said she had been trying to get the vaccinations for more than a month, since the school system sent a warning letter. She had an appointment for Monday, but came to the courthouse to be safe.
"It was very heavy handed," she said of the county's action. "From that letter, it sounded like they were going to start putting us in jail."
School officials deemed the court action a success. School system spokesman John White said the number of children lacking vaccinations dropped from 2,300 at the time the judge sent the letter to about 1,100 Friday.
After Saturday's session, 172 more students were brought into compliance, including 101 students who received vaccinations at the courthouse and 71 whose records were updated.
That still left more than 900 students out of compliance with vaccination requirements, White said.
One more argument to get your kids out of government schools. By the way, note the Orwellian use of the word 'compliance'.