Illinois Adopts New Requirement for Student Religious Exemptions from Vaccinations

 August 24, 2015

By Parker R. Himes and James A. Petrungaro

             On August 3, 2015, Governor Rauner signed into law Public Act 99-0249, which adds a requirement that parents or guardians of students claiming a religious exemption from vaccinations must complete and submit a Certificate of Religious Exemption before the exemption will be honored.  The Illinois Department of Public Health will make available the necessary certificate.

            Prior to adoption of the new legislation, parents or guardians of students claiming a religious exemption from vaccination were merely required to submit a signed statement of objection to the district.  Illinois now requires a standardized Certificate of Religious Exemption to claim a religious exemption from vaccinations.

            Notably, the title of the new form is a bit misleading.  The Certificate does not require, for example, a priest, rabbi or other religious leader to confirm the family’s religious beliefs.  Rather, the Certificate requires that the student’s health care provider explain in detail to the parents or guardians the risk to the student and to the population as a whole that would arise from abstaining from vaccinations.  After informing the parents or guardians of the risks, the health care provider must sign the Certificate confirming that risk information was provided to the parents or guardians.  The health care provider does not authorize the legitimacy of the family’s religious exemption.  In addition, the Certificate reflects the parents’ or guardians’ understanding that their child may be excluded from school in the case of a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak or exposure. 

            Parents or guardians must submit the Certificate to their child’s district prior to the child entering kindergarten, sixth grade, and ninth grade.  The Department of Public Health states that this new requirement will be in place for religious exemption requests beginning October 16, 2015.  The Illinois State Board of Education and the Department of Public Health will soon make the Certificate available on their websites.

            Should you find yourself confronted with an issue concerning student vaccinations, please contact an attorney at the Firm so we may guide you through the new process.