Maryland schools can ask for the COVID-19 vaccination status of students and require proof of vaccination, even if the schools themselves are not mandating vaccines, according to a legal opinion requested by a state lawmaker.
Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel) said he asked the Office of the Attorney General for clarification on whether schools were allowed to require proof of vaccination status after confusion around the start of this school year.
By law, a school can acquire a student’s immunization history from a state database or require families to provide that information directly, Sandra Benson Brantley, counsel to the General Assembly, wrote in a letter to Rosapepe this week.
Now with this clarification, Rosapepe said he hopes local school systems begin to proactively collect data on which students are vaccinated and which are not, and to encourage unvaccinated students to get a vaccine as soon as possible. The data could allow parents and local school systems to better understand the risk of COVID infection at individual schools, he said.
Brantley also clarified that it is not a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — commonly known as HIPAA — violation for a school to ask for a student’s vaccination status. The Maryland Department of Health already requires children attending school in Maryland to get inoculated for other diseases like chickenpox, tetanus and meningitis to fulfill school enrollment requirements.
“Those MDH regulations require parents or guardians to provide proof of vaccination for the mandatory vaccines specified in the regulations. It should not be any different for [COVID] vaccinations if mandated,” Brantley wrote.
However, asking for the reason for why a student did not receive the vaccine could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act if the answer involves a disability, Brantley wrote.
With COVID vaccines readily available and the highly contagious delta variant pervading in certain parts of the country, a growing number of employers and universities are instituting some form of a vaccine requirement. Last spring, the University System of Maryland announced that it was mandating vaccines across all of its campuses for this academic year and more than 90% of students, faculty and staff have complied, according to university officials.
President Biden recently announced a federal rule that requires all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that every worker is either vaccinated for COVID or submitting to weekly testing.
As of Tuesday, anyone inside Maryland public school buildings must wear a mask, but the Maryland State Board of Education is currently not requiring vaccination for teachers, staff or students. During a legislative hearing on a statewide mask mandate in public schools Tuesday, Clarence Crawford, president of the Maryland State Board of Education, said that the board has not discussed or expressed interest in pursuing a vaccine mandate and that decision should be the Maryland Department of Health’s to make.
Children ages 12 to 17 are eligible for the vaccine, and it is likely that younger children will become eligible this fall.
Some students who are currently eligible aren’t vaccinated because of lack of access, perhaps because they do not speak English or have easy access to a car or computer, Rosapepe said. He said he hopes local school systems can identify those students facing barriers to the COVID vaccine and help them get vaccinated after they collect data.
“We’re making progress — every week, we have more people vaccinated,” Rosapepe said. “We just gotta keep pushing until we are safe.”
Rosapepe said it is common sense that the same protocol for other required vaccines should apply to COVID vaccines. “We have mandated vaccinations for kids to go to kindergarten since I went to kindergarten. We did that because those viruses are dangerous, but this is on a much bigger scale,” he said.
“The school systems in Maryland have been moving much too slowly on this,” he continued.