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Norwin School District under fire for handling of chicken pox outbreak

Michael DiVittorio
| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 7:32 a.m.

Norwin High School students who were excluded from school on Monday because they did not have proof that they have been immunized against chickenpox, or that they are not at risk of contacting the virus, are expected to be in class on Tuesday.

District officials made the announcement at Monday night's school board workshop meeting, and addressed parents' concerns about the outbreak of the disease.

“Why did this happen so quickly?” parent Kelli Huss asked. “Why wasn't more thought put into it and a different option given to us parents, like a release, and assuming the responsibility?”

“We were given information from the (state) Department of Health,” Solicitor Michael Brungo said. “And the information, frankly, was not consistent. The relationship between the district and students is different because we're obligated not only to provide for their education, but we're also obligated to provide for their health and well-being.

“The decision was made not to put them at risk. If we were to have delayed that decision, who knows who we may have put at risk?”

Superintendent William Kerr said 13 at-risk students were not in school on Monday.

Officials were informed on Thursday of a confirmed case of the contagious, airborne virus at the high school. At that time, 32 students in the district were not immunized, or had not provided proper documentation.

Parent Lisa Grudowski said those students were called to the office via the public alert system, and all of their peers learned they were not immunized.

“It is their right for that school to not know whether they're vaccinated or not,” Grudowski said. “That right was taken away from them. I sent my children to school today because, according to the letter that the district sent, my children were entitled to go to school today.”

Grudowski said her two daughters, a sophomore and a senior, did not get vaccinated.

“As punishment for that, my children were called down to the office,” she said. “They were put in a room by themselves and secluded for three hours before I received a phone call. They kept them in prison.”

Grudowski said she had blood work performed on her children to show they were not at risk.

Kerr said 19 students either were vaccinated, or had provided appropriate medical documentation prior to Monday.

Kerr called an emergency meeting on Saturday with administrators, the nursing staff and others to review safety measures. Following that meeting, 13 students remained at risk, according to the district, and were excluded from school on Monday. Those students will be permitted to return provided their parents sign a waiver. District officials said students who were excluded on Monday, and who are determined to not have had “close contact” with the carrier, will be readmitted. Brungo said the health department's definition of “close contact” is not clear.“We will attempt to do what we can to identify those children who have not been in close contact,” Brungo said.

Brungo said the state Department of Health was contacted, and the district immediately acted based on the its recommendations.

District officials excluded them from school activities for the virus incubation period — and that included nine students planning to attend Friday's prom.

“To ignore the recommendation of the health department would put the district at risk in the event that one of those children, or another child, subsequently would become infected and have serious consequences,” Brungo said. “There are serious consequences of chickenpox. It's rare, but in some instances children can have other conditions that can develop, including a problem with brain activity and, in bad cases, even death.

“The district was not going to place the school community in a place where it had to face potentially serious consequences. This district acted as expeditiously as it possibly could.”

On Friday, the district released updated information, provided by the health department, listing the incubation period as between May 12 and May 25, allowing students to attend prom. This was after several parents took measures to ensure their children could attend the dance. Of the nine impacted students attending prom, seven subsequently were vaccinated.

Lisa Balsamico said her daughter, a senior, was one of the seven.

“There was some risk in her doing that medically,” Balsamico said. “I knew it wasn't fatal, but I just felt forced to make that decision. Then Friday afternoon it all was relieved. That was disturbing.”

Huss said her daughter, senior Marissa Huss, helped plan the prom and was not going to be denied attendance.

Huss said her son Charles, a junior on the track team, and Marissa were immunized so they could participate in district activities on Friday. She plans to submit a $190 bill to the district for the shots.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or

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