All schools—public, charter, and private—are subject to new immunization and exemption requirements effective for the 2015-2016 school year.

First, under prior legislation, students entering 6th and 12th grades must receive a meningitis vaccine before the first day of school. Parents/guardians must provide districts with proof of immunizations, including the meningitis vaccination requirement, by October 15 (unless an earlier date has been established by the school district). If not submitted by October 15, a student must be excluded from school until proof of the required immunization is provided.

Second, a recent amendment to the Illinois School Code revised the requirements for religious exemptions to immunizations, health examinations, and screening tests.

A parent who wishes to rely on a religious exemption must now submit a Certificate of Religious Exemption that is signed by the student’s health care provider. Before, a parent needed only to provide a written statement to the school stating the religious grounds for their objection to immunizations, health examinations, and screening tests.

This change is in effect for the 2015-2016 school year. Note that the Illinois State Board of Education has, however, pushed back the implementation date for the now required Certificate for parents who already completed their child’s immunization and health examination requirements or submitted their statement of objection on religious grounds for the 2015-2016 school year. These parents do not have to return to their child’s physician to have the certificate completed.

The Certificate from those claiming a religious exemption is, therefore, required starting October 16, 2015. For current students who already submitted the required proof of immunization and health examination for the 2015-2016 school year, the Certificate is not required until the next time they are required to submit proof of health examination and immunizations. For students who have not provided proof by October 15, 2015, or who enroll after October 15, 2015, the Certificate is required. The Certificate is available on ISBE’s website ISBE’s Fall 2015 Immunization Guidance also is available on its website.

The signature by the student’s health care provider on the Certificate reflects only that information was provided to the parent regarding immunizations. The health care provider does not determine a religious exemption. It is up to the local school authority to determine whether the parent’s statement of objection constitutes a valid religious objection. Pursuant to the School Code, IDPH regulations, and case law, a general philosophical or moral reluctance to allow an immunization, examination, or test is insufficient. The objection must set forth the specific religious belief that conflicts with the immunization, examination, or test. However, the religious objection may be personal and need not be directed by the tenets of an established religious organization.

As we rapidly approach the October 15 cutoff date, please contact Jennifer Mueller with your immunization and religious exemption from immunization inquiries.