Students, parents, and school districts should be mindful of new immunization requirements that go into effect for the 2015-16 school year.

The changes include a requirement imposed by Public Act 98-0480 and related implementing regulations that students entering 6th and 12th grade obtain a meningitis vaccine before the first day of school. Although the law is somewhat ambiguous about when a student must prove they have received the immunization, we believe that a fair reading of the law in harmony with the Illinois School Code counsels applying the October 15 deadline under the School Code's immunization provision, unless the school district has established an earlier date pursuant to the School Code provision under board policy.

The changes also include revisions under Public Act 99-0249 to the School Code’s requirements for religious exemptions for vaccinations. The law now requires parents and schools to meet more stringent requirements before a parent’s religious objection to immunizations can be accepted, including the following:

  • Parents who wish to rely on a religious exemption must complete a Certificate of Religious Exemption that must be signed by a health care provider. Before the bill was passed, parents needed only provide a written statement to the school stating their religious grounds for refusing vaccines.
  • On the certification, the health care provider must confirm that the provider educated the parent(s) on the benefits of immunization and the health risks to the student and the community of the communicable diseases for which immunization is required.
  • The certification must also indicate that the parent is aware of and understands the school’s exclusion policies in the case of a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak or exposure.
  • As required by regulations before this amendment to the law, parents must continue to detail the grounds for the objection and the specific immunizations, tests, or examinations to which the parents object, setting forth the specific religious belief that conflicts with the specific intervention. Although the religious objection stated need not be directed by the tenants of an established religious organization, the law makes clear that the general philosophical or moral reluctance to submit to the immunizations or other health screenings is not sufficient. The local school authority continues to be tasked with reviewing the Certification and determining if it constitutes a valid religious objection.

Public Act 99-0249 did not change the requirements for obtaining a medical exemption from vaccinations. Parents must still obtain an endorsement on the health examination form if the physical condition of the child is such that the immunization should not be administered for medical reasons.