On Tuesday, the Illinois State Board of Education issued guidance on recent changes to immunization requirements for students. As we reported last week, recent legislation requires a new meningitis vaccine for sixth and twelfth grade students this school year, and increases the requirements for parents and guardians requesting religious exemptions for immunizations and other health tests and examinations. ISBE’s guidance relates to these new laws and provides general guidance and best practices regarding back-to-school immunizations. 

Most critically, ISBE’s guidance includes the Certificate for Religious Exemption form that recent amendments to the School Code require parents/guardians submit, signed by a health care provider, if they wish to seek a religious exemption to immunization requirements. According to ISBE, the form was created by the Illinois Department of Public Health, as required by the amended vaccination law. 

The ISBE guidance asserts that school districts should begin using the new form beginning October 16, 2015, and only with students who enroll in school or are required to prove immunization after October 16. The guidance explains that ISBE’s effective date takes into account that most parents/guardians already have completed their child’s physical exam/immunization requirements or submitted religious objection letters for the 2015-16 school year, and that parents/guardians should not be required to return to their physician to complete the new form for this school year. Although this is true for many schools, the ISBE guidance recognizes that the law allows school districts to establish an earlier date for proof of vaccination. If a school district has established such an earlier date, either generally or with respect to specific immunizations, through board of education policy, and has not already received a religious exemption request from a parent for those immunizations covered by the policy, the school district may require parents/guardians to use the new form prior to October 16 for the immunizations covered by the policy. 

The ISBE guidance also provides an important reminder to schools that “[w]hile schools must comply with state law that requires exclusion for students who lack physical exams and/or vaccinations without proper exemptions, schools are encouraged to make the immunization and health examination process easier for parents/guardians, particularly those who may not have a reliable source of health care. The goal is to have all students meeting health requirements and attending school.” The guidance provides information regarding health clinics and centers to which schools may direct parents/guardians to obtain required vaccines and other health tests and examinations.