Because states enact vaccine requirements to protect public health, school vaccine requirements generally apply to public and private K-12 schools, and also to daycare facilities. Only a handful of states require college and university students to be vaccinated, so in practice, determining and enforcing vaccine requirements is usually up to individual higher education institutions.
A growing number of colleges and universities have announced that they will require all students who plan to be on campus to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Other institutions are requiring the vaccine only for students who want to live in dorms. However, at least one state legislature — Michigan's — is considering barring state universities from requiring vaccines as a condition of taking in-person classes, contending a vaccine requirement would infringe on matters of individual choice.
This raises the interesting question of whether an individual school district, like an individual college or university, could require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
When school vaccine requirements began in the late 19th century, the goal was to prevent the spread of smallpox. By 1915, 15 states and Washington, D.C., required students to receive the smallpox vaccine, and 21 other states allowed local governments such as school districts and county health departments to impose such a requirement.
School vaccination requirements have proliferated over the past century, in response to both specific outbreaks and the growing acceptance of vaccine mandates as public health policy. Although most vaccination requirements have been issued at the state level in recent decades, whether school districts can add to the list of required vaccines remains an open question, and may vary by state.
It is also a question that courts will likely soon engage. In January 2021, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that it plans to require its students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once a vaccine is approved and available. Los Angeles Unified is the nation's largest school district. As fall nears — and assuming clinical trials continue to demonstrate both efficacy and safety — we may see more districts pursue this option.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. You can find the original article here.
Kristine Bowman is a professor of law and education policy at Michigan State University and a national expert on K-12 education law.