On March 18, 2015, the United States Department of Education through the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) released a fact sheet reminding schools to be mindful of civil rights requirements when dealing with and responding to the recent measles threat. OCR recommends that schools use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations and resources when considering how to best prevent the spread of measles. OCR advises that in general, schools can require that students be vaccinated to attend school in order to minimize the risk of exposure to other students. In the case of an outbreak, schools should defer to the public health authorities to assess whether individuals should be advised or required to stay home from school, either because they may have a contagious disease, or because they are not immunized.
However, some students may be medically unable to receive certain vaccines because of a disability, including those disabilities that affect the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, leukemia, or other cancers. In this regard, some state laws generally contain medical exemptions to vaccine requirements. Under normal circumstances, schools must make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, or procedures that otherwise require vaccinations, in order for these students to be able to attend school. OCR advises that during an outbreak or potential outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease, such as the measles, schools must follow existing laws and policies in a non-discriminatory manner and should seek guidance from and defer to public health authorities when determining whether, for students with disabilities, the school can continue to safely make such modifications to a policy, practice, or procedure that otherwise requires vaccinations in order to attend school.
For more information on civil rights implications involved in a school’s treatment of a potential measles outbreak, or other school law issues, please contact Peter K. Wilson, Bernard K. Weiler, Jessica L. Briney, or Laura M. Julien, of Mickey, Wilson, Weiler, Renzi & Andersson, P.C., 2111 Plum Street, Suite 201, Aurora, Illinois 60506. Telephone Number:630-801-9699, or by E-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; and email@example.com.