Office for Civil Rights Issues “Fact Sheet” on Rights of Students Excluded from School Due to Communicable Diseases

The Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) at the U.S. Department of Education recently issued a fact sheet entitled Addressing the Risk of Measles in Schools while Protecting the Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities. The Fact Sheet is available here.

The OCR Fact Sheet addresses how school officials can implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recommendations and resources for protecting students from measles without discriminating on the basis of disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”) and Title II of theAmericans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“Title II”), particularly in the case of students who are medically unable to receive a vaccine because of a disability. The Fact Sheet also discusses what school officials must do to ensure continuity of learning if a student is legitimately excluded from school.

Illinois, like most states, requires students to show proof of immunization against communicable diseases to attend school. Immunization exemptions are allowed only for medical and religious reasons. In the event a school receives notification of a suspected case of the measles, the school must implement the Illinois Department of Public Health measles exclusion protocol, which includes excluding students from school who are unvaccinated or who have not presented proof of immunity or vaccination. For more information on Illinois-specific requirements, see the article on our website here and in the March 2015 Extra Mile here.

The OCR Fact Sheet acknowledges that schools should comply with state laws and protocols for excluding non-vaccinated students, including those who are medically unable to be vaccinated, when there is an outbreak or potential outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease such as the measles. However, OCR reminds school officials that under Section 504 and Title II school districts “must maintain continuity of learning by providing educational services” a student who is excluded from school because he/she is medically unable to receive the measles vaccine because of a disability, as well as for a student who is excluded from school because he/she has or is regarded as having a disability related to the measles.

OCR encourages school districts to think creatively about how to provide educational services to a student during a prolonged absence due to illness or exclusion, and how to provide academic support upon a student’s return to school. The OCR Fact Sheet suggests various strategies including providing copies of assignments for a student to work on at home and web-based distance learning coursework. OCR notes that providing direct services to a student at home should be done in consultation with local public health officials to assess and address any risk of transmission. OCR also reminds school districts that for a student with disabilities who has an IEP or receives services pursuant to a Section 504 plan and is excluded from school for an extended period of time, the student’s IEP or Section 504 team may need to convene in order to determine how the school district will ensure the student continues to receive a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”).

Contact Jennifer Mueller with your measles and communicable disease inquiries.

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