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Parents Often Kept In Dark About Schools' Vaccine Rates

DALLAS (CBS11 I-TEAM) - The number of Texas families deciding not to vaccinate their school-age children has quadrupled in the past decade, according to state health records.

While the overall number of students statewide without their required shots remains low (less than 1 percent), some doctors are sounding the alarm about clusters of unvaccinated students at several North Texas schools.

Pediatrician Dr. Jason Terk of Cook Children's Hospital said parents, especially those with medically fragile children, need to be aware of the vaccination rate at their child's school.

He said based on the latest research, campuses where more than 5 to 7 percent of the student body is unvaccinated, are at greatest risk of an outbreak of a vaccinated disease.

>5% of students have vaccine exemptions at 19 DFW schools

vaccine map

Through open records requests, the CBS11 I-Team found 19 campuses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where more than 5 percent of students last year had a vaccine exemption.

The list includes elementary schools in Plano ISD (Hightower), Frisco ISD (Bledsoe), McKinney ISD (Walker and Eddins), Lewisville ISD (Hicks), and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD (Colleyville).

According to district records, eight campuses in the Denton ISD also had more than 5 percent of students with a wavier for at least one required vaccine. (Ryan HS, Denton HS, Braswell HS, Guyer HS, Newton Rayzor ES, Savannah ES, Adkins ES, Woodrow Wilson ES).

Six North Texas charter school systems also reported high vaccine exemption rates, including Trivium Academy in Carrolton. The school reported to the state that last year more than 12 percent of its students had a vaccine wavier.

"It's only a matter of time before we reach those thresholds where we can expect outbreaks of those preventable vaccinated disease to occur and that is very concerning," Terk said.

Parents with medically fragile children says it can be life or death

As a mother of triplets who were born premature,

Liz Pinon and family
Liz Pinon and family (CBS11)

of Fort Worth said knowing the percentage of unvaccinated students is essential in choosing the best school for her children.

Pinon's three children will start kindergarten this year and Pinon said she is extremely worried about them getting sick at school.

Born at 25 weeks, her triplets have compromised lungs and a weaker immune system than most children their age.

"We are not talking about 'oh they are sick for a few weeks', and then they get better'. It can easily be life or death for my children," Pinon said. "But I don't want to keep them home and not expose them to the world so I'm always thinking how to keep my kids safe."

The Fort Worth mother said knowing the vaccine rate at a campus will help her made an informed decision as to what school to enroll her children.

However, in Texas, finding school vaccine rates can be difficult. The information is not posted on the state's education or health department websites.

To find out vaccine rates of campuses, the CBS 11 I-Team had to file open records requests with school districts.

This can be a tedious and time consuming process for parents.

Plus, some districts like, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, said it does not keep track of vaccine exemption by campuses. The school district said told the I-Team it only keeps track of the number of students with vaccination waivers at a district level.

"Nothing is fool proof," Pinon said. "But I want to be the one that makes those decisions for my children and those number would help me make a better decision for them."

Some Texas parents worry being outed for vaccine exemptions

Not everyone agrees that vaccine exemption numbers should be easy to find or even be made public.

Some parents worry posting a school's vaccine exemption rate on the state's education website could lead to people publicly shaming them for not vaccinating their child.

Texans for Vaccine Choice, a grassroots political action committee, lobbied hard against a bill this past legislative session that would have made it easier for parents to find out the vaccine exemption rate at their child's school.

House Bill 2249, often referred to as the Parents Right to Know Bill, would have required a school's vaccine exemption to be posted on the state's education website.

After making it out of committee, the Texas House failed to bring it up for a vote and thus the bill died,

"I think it could have led to situations where kids could be outed," Rebecca Hardy with Texans for Vaccine Choice said. "Their vaccination status should be awarded utmost privacy protection."

However, supporters of making the information more easily available say the reports would not be am invasion of a student's privacy because vaccine rates do not identify individual students.

"I'm not asking names or even classrooms," said Pinon. "I want to know numbers so I can make an informed decision for my children."

Vaccine exemption rates by school

Below are the vaccine exemptions rates for schools in 27 of the largest school districts in North Texas.

All of the information was provided by school districts and obtained by the CBS11 I-Team through open records requests.

There are no names or any other form of student identification.

Vaccine rates for schools with an enrollment under 65 students are not included.


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