The New York State Education Department (SED) issued updated guidelines in August (the Guidelines) regarding the responsibilities of school districts relating to student vaccinations (https://www.nysed.gov/sites/default/files/programs/student-support-services/immunization-guidelines-for-schools.pdf).
By way of background, schools are legally required to obtain proof of immunization for children entering or attending a school, and to work cooperatively with the local department of health to facilitate the vaccination of children. In 2019, the NYS legislature determined that religious beliefs do not exempt a student from this public health mandate. However, provided there is appropriate medical justification, some students may have a medical reason to be exempted from the immunization requirement.
While the Guidelines do not appear to reflect any changes to the law itself, the guidance document does include significant updates from SED’s prior guidance. Of note, the Definition of Terms section of the Guidelines include revised and expanded definitions with regards to the definitions of “Acceptable Proof,” “Fully Immunized,” “Immunity,” “In Process,” and “Serologic test for immunity.”
The Guidelines recommend that schools have a “written immunization policy” and “procedures” consistent with state and federal laws. The Guidelines include a list of items to be addressed in these policies and procedures. It does not appear that this “policy” must be an official “Board Policy.” The Guidelines recommend that this policy, “be evaluated, reviewed, and revised periodically at a rate necessary to keep them up-to-date.” We recommend that school district administrators and school health services personnel review the Guidelines when crafting the immunization policy and procedures. As a reminder, school districts should also be sure to post the current version of the annual influenza education materials (updated by the NYSDOH each year) in each school building in early fall.
The Guidelines recommend that “key school personnel such as building administrators, school health personnel, and school registrars” be trained on immunization requirements including district policy.
The Guidelines include new language regarding non-immunized/excluded students: “Schools should have policies in place regarding notifying Child Protective Services (CPS) if the student is of compulsory school age and has been excluded more than 14 days, if the parent refuses to allow the local department of health or another appropriate health practitioner to immunize their child, and no actions steps are reported by the parent/guardian for pursuing other education options, such as homeschooling.”
The Guidelines also clarify the special requirements applicable to homeless students, students in foster care, and refugee students. While homeschooled students are generally not required to provide a school district with proof of vaccination or eligibility for a medical exemption, the Guidelines note that such proof is required where a child that is being homeschooled seeks to participate in testing or other school-sponsored events or activities not open to the general public on the premises of a school.
It is important to note that the NYSDOH may audit a school district to ascertain compliance with immunization-related requirements, and that civil fines may be imposed on schools that allow a student to attend school in violation of immunization related-legal requirements. If you have immunization related questions, please reach out to our firm for guidance.