No Excuses: New York Repeals Religious Exemptions to State Immunization Requirements

By Anastasia M. McCarthy, Esq.

A new law passed just last week, which repeals religious exemptions to New York’s otherwise mandatory vaccination requirements for children entering schools and daycares throughout the state.  Below is some clarification on the details of this law and what it may mean to you.

What does the law now require?
School principals, teachers, owners, or other persons in charge of the school must inform the parent(s) or guardian(s) of a child seeking admission (or currently enrolled but without acceptable proof of immunization) that the child must be immunized.  More importantly, no principal, teacher, owner or other person in charge of a school can permit a child without acceptable proof of immunization to be admitted or to attend school. Students entering or attending school have 14 days to provide adequate proof of immunization (or in the case of transfer students, a maximum 30 days); alternatively, a child may enter and/or continue attending school if their parent or guardian can demonstrate that the child has had at least the first dose in each required immunization series and has age appropriate appointments scheduled to the complete the immunization series.
Who does the law impact?
Students entering or already enrolled in any daycare, Head Start, nursery school, pre-K, or public, private or parochial school.  The law also places a burden on school administrators to ensure that all students have appropriately produced proof of compliance with State vaccination requirements.
What legislative findings were attached to justify the repeal of the religious exemption?
The Bill’s sponsors in the State Assembly attached a number of interesting factual, legislative findings.  Data collected in 2013-14, 285 schools in New York had a vaccination rate below 85%; 170 of those schools had a vaccination rate lower than 70%.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, a goal of 95% vaccination is essential in preventing the spread of illness.
What exemptions exist now?
The only valid exemption from the mandatory vaccination requirements are for those children who are medically ineligible for a vaccination series.  Proof of ineligibility must be provided by the child’s physician.
When does the law go into effect?
Immediately.  Currently enrolled students previously claiming a religious exemption have 30 days to produce acceptable proof of immunization.
Can a school district and/or district personnel bear liability for the spread of illness?
In some cases, yes.  These cases are premised upon a negligence theory.  The newly passed legislation will hopefully lessen the opportunities for the spreading of illness, however, it may also allow negligence claims to arise where employees do not properly discharge their duty to keep unvaccinated children out of schools.

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