Measles Outbreak a Lesson for Minnesota School Leaders

August 27, 2017 10:59 PM

Minnesota declared its biggest measles outbreak in more than 25 years officially over on Friday, 42 days after the last person contracted measles on July 13. The person was a young, white teenager. 

The Minnesota Department of Health waited two incubation periods to make the declaration to ensure nobody else was infected. The measles outbreak spread through the spring and summer. In all, 79 people contracted measles. Seventy-three were unvaccinated children under the age of 10 in day cares, hospitals and schools. Sixty-four cases occurred in the Somali-Minnesotan community.  


Children with symptoms had to wear masks. Hospitals told parents not to bring children under 5 to the hospital unless they were sick. During the outbreak, schools in Minneapolis tried to stop measles from spreading to thousands of children.    

The official declaration of the end of the measles outbreak came a few days before a population of 36,000 Minneapolis Public Schools children start their first day of classes on Monday.

RELATED: Somali Health Workers Strive to Educate During Measles Outbreak

“We had to have some very hard conversations with families about what happened,” said Rochelle Cox, executive director of Special Education and Health Services for MPS.

Area School District Immunization Policies: 

St. Paul Public Schools

Minneapolis Public Schools:

Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan 

Osseo Area Schools:

  • Observes a No Shots, No Start policy, with exceptions per state law 

Minnesota Department of Health Resources:

Cox led the charge at the district to stop the measles outbreak from spreading. 

“Hennepin County, Minnesota Department of Health, cultural liaisons, we were on the phone six times a day,” she said.

Cox said the district’s crisis situation systems worked. Fewer than 10 children in the district got sick. They’ve since recovered and can go to school. 

The outbreak was a lesson for school leaders across Minnesota. 

All school districts must follow the School Immunization Law, but districts apply that law differently. The state reports high vaccination rates for school districts. More than 90 percent of children in Minneapolis and St. Paul schools are vaccinated.  

Cox said the immunization philosophy for Minneapolis schools is education rather than enforcement. She said unvaccinated children are allowed to come to school, but that nurses will work with them to get their shots or to get exemptions. 

RELATED: Religious Leaders, Health Care Officials Work to Control Measles Outbreak

The policy in St. Paul is less standardized. Head Nurse and supervisor of Student Health and Wellness Mary Yackley said nurses and principals in each school know their students best. Yackley said they can best decide whether to let children come to school or stay home if they don’t have shots or exemptions. 

“Communities educate us every day on what works for them,” she said. 

In many cases, Yackley tries to get the district’s policy to parents through a Somali cultural liaison. Seventy-five percent of the children in St. Paul schools come from communities of color. 

Mohamed Hadi is a former math teacher turned cultural liaison. His children and grandchildren are vaccinated. He says districts need cultural liaisons like him because parents are hearing too many messages from too many sides. 

Hadi brings Yackley and other school officials together so they can disseminate accurate information. And Yackley said immigrants and refugees are motivated to listen. 

“They are very excited to be here and they are very excited to follow the laws of the school districts they are enrolling,” Yackley said. “They are from countries where those diseases aren’t always protected, so they are more motivated to protect themselves.” 

The Centers for Disease Control said measles is 97 percent preventable with a vaccine.

Yackley said the measles outbreak was a teachable moment for all school districts. 

“We can now say, ‘Remember when we had measles in our community?’” she said. “It’s an opportunity to say, ‘This is why we are working harder.’” 



Farrah Fazal

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