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Revised chicken pox incubation allows Norwin students to attend prom

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Call 877-PA-HEALTH. Norwin parents with questions can call the high school office at: 724-861-3005.

By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Saturday, May 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

In addition to the regular prom preparation to-do list of renting and buying black-tie attire, picking up a corsage or boutonniere and posing with friends for photos, several Norwin High School students had to add another item: Getting a chickenpox vaccine.

The Westmoreland County school district announced Thursday that a high school student had contracted chickenpox, an airborne, contagious virus. Because of that, 33 students without immunization records will be excluded from school activities for the virus' incubation period — and that included nine students planning to attend Friday's prom, the district said Thursday.

But on Friday, the district released updated information listing the incubation period as between May 12 and May 25, allowing students to attend prom.

“That is the period when people who are not immunized are at the most risk to spread the virus,” said Tracy McNelly, assistant superintendent of secondary education.

In a statement, Norwin said it “was provided with a revised incubation period for the chickenpox virus by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.”

Kait Gillis, deputy press secretary at the state Department of Health, said “the incubation period was always the same. It was just that I believe the math wasn't necessarily done from the right date initially.”

She listed May 13 as the start of the incubation period.

The health department recommends students be excluded from school and extracurricular activities during the incubation period, Gillis said, but it's not a mandate.

Parents may opt out of vaccinations for religious or medical reasons, but those students may be barred if there's an outbreak, according to the state Department of Health's website.

As of Friday afternoon, 14 of the original 33 students had not been immunized, McNelly said. Those students will be excluded from school beginning Monday, she said.

Of the nine impacted students attending prom, seven ended up getting vaccinated, McNelly said.

Among them was Nicky Neveu, a junior who said she was called into a meeting Thursday afternoon and told about the situation that would have barred her from prom.

“I got my vaccine that day. We rushed to Walgreens,” she said. “I got the very last dose. ... Thank goodness.”

Neveu, 17, said she's been planning to attend prom for a while, she has SAT tests soon, and she didn't want to miss the seniors' last day of school.

“We were all just kind of shocked because it was so last-minute,” Neveu said about the announcement.

Nicky's mother, Sharon Neveu, said she and her husband chose to opt out of the immunization. Because parents are given the option, she said, telling students they couldn't attend prom sent “a double message.”

“I just feel like things were blown out of proportion a little bit,” she said. “It's chickenpox for Pete's sake.”

Sharon Neveu said she'll continue to discuss the situation with district decision-makers.

“To punish the students and the late notice and all of that was just frustrating for me,” she said. “I did whatever I felt I needed to do based on the time frame that we had. And that's when I chose to go ahead and get her the shot.”

To Marissa Huss, a Norwin senior, getting the vaccine does not mesh with her personal beliefs, but she got it anyway.

“I really didn't have a choice,” Huss, 18, said. “I'm a senior class officer, so I planned the entire prom. I planned graduation also, and I'm speaking at graduation. All of that would have been taken away from me if I didn't get that immunization.”

Nowhere in Westmoreland County were vaccines available, so Huss traveled to the Allegheny Department of Health for the $95 shot.

“I love Norwin. I think it's great,” she said. “I just feel that this situation could have been handled a little differently than it was.”

Students can be readmitted to school after the incubation period runs its course; if they provide a blood test showing they are immune to chickenpox; or if they receive a chickenpox vaccination on or before Sunday.

The concern, McNelly said is “the spreading of it” because the district educates children with serious life-threatening illnesses who have low immunity even though they're vaccinated.

“It wasn't so much about being immunized. That's a personal choice. We understand that,” she said. “It was more about how do we protect kids in our district who have these low immune systems?”

District administration is working on a plan to make sure that students who choose to remain excluded will be able to complete their academic requirements for the school year. Norwin's school year ends May 24.

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or

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