Q: It’s almost back to school season, and I just made sure my child was up-to-date on all her immunizations. If a child in my daughter’s class has not received immunizations due to personal or parental preference, will the school tell me?
A: While vaccination policies differ from state to state and from school to school, i.e., public versus private, a public school generally will not inform you if there are children in class who are not vaccinated. Even if general information about the number of unvaccinated children is provided, you usually cannot find out the identity of these children.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
The reason for this public school policy is that this information is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA protects all student education records, including health records. These records cannot be shared without the consent of the child’s parent except under certain circumstances.
FERPA only applies to schools that receive funds through a program administered by the Department of Education, so its guidelines generally do not apply to private schools or religious schools.
Challenges from state law
Some states have laws, like the Minnesota Immunization Data Sharing Law, that allow the sharing of this information, but the federal FERPA law trumps state laws, and parental consent is still required.
In 2004, Alabama challenged FERPA by arguing that the information can be released under a provision in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that allows the release of information to prevent or control diseases. The Department of Education responded and confirmed that records protected under FERPA are not subject to HIPAA.
Read more on Avvo’s Education Law topic page.