In the past three years, the number of students in Katy ISD who have received waivers from mandated vaccines for “reasons of conscience” has risen by more than half. The percentage may seem small—only
1.36 percent of the district’s students file for exemptions—but taken in context of the whole district, it equates to nearly 1,000 students.
Parents and students can request a waiver for a number of reasons. The most commonly cited is reason of conscience, said Therese Highnote, KISD’s director of health services. She said the term encompasses a vast array of reasons to exempt a student, including religious beliefs.
To file such an exemption, a parent or guardian must submit a notarized request to the Department of State Health Services. For medical exemptions, parents or guardians must have a signed letter from a physician indicating an injury that would be caused by a vaccine.
“A doctor will have to give an affidavit statement that a student has a lifelong condition and should be exempt from immunizations,” she said. “We kind of get across-the-board [reasons] as to why people opt for the [reason of conscience].”
Although Highnote said there has not been an instance in KISD of a child contracting an illness as the result of an immunization, there have been cases in other districts.
Dawn Tollefson, a parent in neighboring Cy-Fair ISD, said she received a medical exemption for her sons after they were diagnosed with autism at a young age, a diagnosis she believes is connected to vaccines.
According to Highnote, similar concerns in KISD have led to an increased number of parents who file for reasons of conscience exemptions when their children are young, only to immunize them at a later date.
“A lot of parents have a problem with the immunization schedule,” she said. “So they will opt, which is their right, to do the [reason of conscience exemption] so that they aren’t forced onto that immunization schedule.”
The number of KISD students who have been granted a vaccination exemption remains closely proportionate to the district’s enrollment growth, and Highnote said she believes vaccines are an instrumental part of public education.
“There’s always a concern when children are unprotected from communicable diseases,” she said. “Because it is a public institution, they open themselves up to exposure.”