Can my child go to school if I choose not to vaccinate?

It’s back-to-school week and with that comes the question:

Can my child go to school if I choose not to immunize?

The answer is: Yes! Absolutely!

The idea that all children must receive all CDC recommended vaccines in order to attend school is one of the most common misconceptions out there, and it’s no wonder! We are expressly told by school representatives that: “According to Florida statues (sic), students not current on their immunizations will be excluded from school.” It’s right there on the paperwork from the school, so it seems awfully official and they surely know what they’re talking about. Right?

Let’s look at the information parents are given. Here is one of the parent notifications I just received when my daughter started 5th grade at public school:

There it is: a list of “required” vaccines and the statement that “According to Florida statues (sic), students not current on their immunizations will be excluded from school.”

Now, let’s examine the facts. Setting aside the mental picture I now have of a beautiful garden showcasing lots of big bronze statues shaped like Florida, let’s read the actual Florida statutes:

TITLE 48. K-20 EDUCATION CODE
CHAPTER 1002. STUDENT AND PARENTAL RIGHTS AND EDUCATIONAL CHOICES
PART II. STUDENT AND PARENTAL RIGHTS

Fla. Stat. § 1002.20 (2007)

§ 1002.20. K-12 student and parent rights 

K-12 students and their parents are afforded numerous statutory rights including, but not limited to, the following:

(3) HEALTH ISSUES.

(a) School-entry health examinations. –The parent of any child attending a public or private school shall be exempt from the requirement of a health examination upon written request stating objections on religious grounds in accordance with the provisions of s. 1003.22(1) and (2).
(b) Immunizations. –The parent of any child attending a public or private school shall be exempt from the school immunization requirements upon meeting any of the exemptions in accordance with the provisions of s. 1003.22(5).

TITLE 48. K-20 EDUCATION CODE
CHAPTER 1003. PUBLIC K-12 EDUCATION
PART II. SCHOOL ATTENDANCE

Fla. Stat. § 1003.22 (2007)

§ 1003.22. School-entry health examinations; immunization against communicable diseases; exemptions; duties of Department of Health 

(1) Each district school board and the governing authority of each private school shall require that each child who is entitled to admittance to kindergarten, or is entitled to any other initial entrance into a public or private school in this state, present a certification of a school-entry health examination performed within 1 year prior to enrollment in school. Each district school board, and the governing authority of each private school, may establish a policy that permits a student up to 30 school days to present a certification of a school-entry health examination. A homeless child, as defined in s. 1003.01, shall be given a temporary exemption for 30 school days. Any district school board that establishes such a policy shall include provisions in its local school health services plan to assist students in obtaining the health examinations. However, any child shall be exempt from the requirement of a health examination upon written request of the parent of the child stating objections to the examination on religious grounds.

(2) The State Board of Education, subject to the concurrence of the Department of Health, shall adopt rules to govern medical examinations and immunizations performed under this section.

(3) The Department of Health may adopt rules necessary to administer and enforce this section. The Department of Health, after consultation with the Department of Education, shall adopt rules governing the immunization of children against, the testing for, and the control of preventable communicable diseases. The rules must include procedures for exempting a child from immunization requirements. Immunizations shall be required for poliomyelitis, diphtheria, rubeola, rubella, pertussis, mumps, tetanus, and other communicable diseases as determined by rules of the Department of Health. The manner and frequency of administration of the immunization or testing shall conform to recognized standards of medical practice. The Department of Health shall supervise and secure the enforcement of the required immunization. Immunizations required by this section shall be available at no cost from the county health departments.

(4) Each district school board and the governing authority of each private school shall establish and enforce as policy that, prior to admittance to or attendance in a public or private school, grades kindergarten through 12, or any other initial entrance into a Florida public or private school, each child present or have on file with the school a certification of immunization for the prevention of those communicable diseases for which immunization is required by the Department of Health and further shall provide for appropriate screening of its students for scoliosis at the proper age. Such certification shall be made on forms approved and provided by the Department of Health and shall become a part of each student’s permanent record, to be transferred when the student transfers, is promoted, or changes schools. The transfer of such immunization certification by Florida public schools shall be accomplished using the Florida Automated System for Transferring Education Records and shall be deemed to meet the requirements of this section.

(5) The provisions of this section shall not apply if:

(a) The parent of the child objects in writing that the administration of immunizing agents conflicts with his or her religious tenets or practices;
(b) A physician licensed under the provisions of chapter 458 or chapter 459 certifies in writing, on a form approved and provided by the Department of Health, that the child should be permanently exempt from the required immunization for medical reasons stated in writing, based upon valid clinical reasoning or evidence, demonstrating the need for the permanent exemption;
(c) A physician licensed under the provisions of chapter 458, chapter 459, or chapter 460 certifies in writing, on a form approved and provided by the Department of Health, that the child has received as many immunizations as are medically indicated at the time and is in the process of completing necessary immunizations;
(d) The Department of Health determines that, according to recognized standards of medical practice, any required immunization is unnecessary or hazardous; or
(e) An authorized school official issues a temporary exemption, for a period not to exceed 30 school days, to permit a student who transfers into a new county to attend class until his or her records can be obtained. A homeless child, as defined in s. 1003.01, shall be given a temporary exemption for 30 school days. The public school health nurse or authorized private school official is responsible for follow up of each such student until proper documentation or immunizations are obtained. An exemption for 30 days may be issued for a student who enters a juvenile justice program to permit the student to attend class until his or her records can be obtained or until the immunizations can be obtained. An authorized juvenile justice official is responsible for follow up of each student who enters a juvenile justice program until proper documentation or immunizations are obtained.

(6)

(a) No person licensed by this state as a physician or nurse shall be liable for any injury caused by his or her action or failure to act in the administration of a vaccine or other immunizing agent pursuant to the provisions of this section if the person acts as a reasonably prudent person with similar professional training would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.
(b) No member of a district school board, or any of its employees, or member of a governing board of a private school, or any of its employees, shall be liable for any injury caused by the administration of a vaccine to any student who is required to be so immunized or for a failure to diagnose scoliosis pursuant to the provisions of this section.

(7) The parents of any child admitted to or in attendance at a Florida public or private school, grades kindergarten through 12, are responsible for assuring that the child is in compliance with the provisions of this section.

(8) Each public school, including public kindergarten, and each private school, including private kindergarten, shall be required to provide to the county health department director or administrator annual reports of compliance with the provisions of this section. Reports shall be completed on forms provided by the Department of Health for each kindergarten, and other grade as specified; and the reports shall include the status of children who were admitted at the beginning of the school year. After consultation with the Department of Education, the Department of Health shall establish by administrative rule the dates for submission of these reports, the grades for which the reports shall be required, and the forms to be used.

(9) The presence of any of the communicable diseases for which immunization is required by the Department of Health in a Florida public or private school shall permit the county health department director or administrator or the State Health Officer to declare a communicable disease emergency. The declaration of such emergency shall mandate that all students in attendance in the school who are not in compliance with the provisions of this section be identified by the district school board or by the governing authority of the private school; and the school health and immunization records of such children shall be made available to the county health department director or administrator. Those children identified as not being immunized against the disease for which the emergency has been declared shall be temporarily excluded from school by the district school board, or the governing authority of the private school, until such time as is specified by the county health department director or administrator.

(10) Each district school board and the governing authority of each private school shall:

(a) Refuse admittance to any child otherwise entitled to admittance to kindergarten, or any other initial entrance into a Florida public or private school, who is not in compliance with the provisions of subsection (4).
(b) Temporarily exclude from attendance any student who is not in compliance with the provisions of subsection (4).

Let me repeat some key points:
Immunizations. –The parent of any child attending a public or private school shall be exempt from the school immunization requirements upon meeting any of the exemptions in accordance with the provisions of s. 1003.22(5).

s. 1003.22 (5) The provisions of this section shall not apply if:

(a) The parent of the child objects in writing that the administration of immunizing agents conflicts with his or her religious tenets or practices;

In other words, a parent merely has to object in writing in order to comply with the immunization law. They do not have to allow administration of vaccines to their child in order for the child to attend school. In fact, if you so choose, all you have to do is go down to your county health department, request the exemption form (see photo below) and sign it. In most places, and certainly in our area, you do not need to write your own letter, you do not need to explain your belief system in any way, you do not need to justify your decision to the person there.

Incidentally, did you notice that the statute protects physicians and nurses from any liability for any injury caused by his or her action or failure to act in the administration of a vaccine or other immunizing agent? The law acknowledges benefits and risks associated with vaccination. For some, the potential benefits will outweigh the risks; for others, they will not.

Also, note that if a communicable disease emergency has been declared, children not immunized against a communicable disease will be temporarily excluded from school.
In fact, it is this section of the statute that is stated on the exemption form you get from the county health department if you choose to request an exemption (which you can do at any time, even if you have previously opted for vaccinations). Here is a close-up of the English text:

If you choose to get an exemption, you will likely also receive a pack of papers distributed by the Immunization Action Coalition, an obviously pro-vaccine organization, which includes articles by Paul Offit, MD, who is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

This happens not just in Florida. Other states are equally active in what I consider to be misrepresentation of the truth to parents while others are a bit more upfront about the possibility of exemptions. In Colorado, for example, we received an Immunization Record booklet from our pediatrician. Here is the message it sends to parents on the front:

It says: “Your child must comply with Colorado’s Immunization law to be enrolled in school.”

And here, if you read carefully, is a mention of exemption on the back:

What it boils down to is that you can be in compliance with the immunization laws of your state whether you give your child every vaccine out there or not a single dose of any vaccine.

I hope this post makes it abundantly clear that your child CAN attend public or non-public school, preschool or day care whether you fully vaccinate your child, selectively vaccinate, delay some or all vaccinations or refuse vaccinations altogether, or wherever you may be on the spectrum of choices.

Please, know the facts and do your own research. Don’t take someone’s word for it. Trust… but verify!

Disclaimer! I am not a medical professional and this does not constitute medical advice. I am not an attorney and this does not constitute legal advice either. I don’t know what is right for your child and your family. That is totally up to you to decide in consultation with your care provider. We made different choices for our own children. My only objective in this post is to help you to be aware of what your state statutes actually mandate. You do have a choice.

For more information, some of these links may be of interest:

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