How we got the story

2012-05-20T00:00:00Z 2012-05-22T11:34:08Z How we got the storyArizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 20, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona Daily Star first requested vaccination data broken down by schools from the Arizona Department of Health Services on Jan. 4.

After several follow-ups and rounds of back and forth, the state turned over immunization rates of kindergarten students in the 2010-2011 school year on Feb. 10.

Data from 216 schools with fewer than 20 children enrolled in kindergarten were missing. The state refused to release the data, "to ensure the privacy of children and families." State officials said the information could be used to identify unvaccinated students on the campuses, which represent 17 percent of Arizona schools.

The Star requested follow-up data on immunization rates of kindergarten students in the 2009-2010 school year, and threatened to sue to obtain data on the missing schools. We argued there's no obvious way to know who has been vaccinated or not unless parents choose to reveal that information.

We also pointed out that the data isn't from the current school year. The kids in second grade probably are not the same group that was in kindergarten two years ago, making identification of individuals even more unlikely.

The state provided the requested 2009-10 immunization data, but again left out schools with fewer than 20 kindergartners enrolled. The state stood by its privacy position and said it was prepared to defend it in court if the Star sued to obtain the school names.

In April, after more back and forth, the state agreed to provide data from all but one of the 216 schools with the name and address of the schools redacted, grouped by county. State officials contended they still couldn't release Greenlee County because it only had one school in the group, so it would be easy to identify the unvaccinated students.

The state would also not release any exemption or enrollment data for those 215 schools, when it provided the redacted data on May 1.

Star reporters organized, cleaned and simplified the data, found additional information on schools and queried the data to determine which schools fell below safe vaccination levels.

Finally, the Star created searchable databases for all schools statewide. They can be found at www.azstarnet.com/databases

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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