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Are special-ed students exempt from vaccination requirements?

Here's a hypothetical that seems well on the way to becoming reality for some families of special-education students in California, soon in Orange County and potentially in other areas of the state, as well.

You're the parent of a student with an IEP (Individualized Education Program) who is averse to giving your child one or more vaccinations for personal reasons. Your decision to forgo vaccinations has been honored by the state pursuant to a "personal belief exemption" that has long existed under state law.

Officials in your county recently abolished that exemption, though, issuing a memo stating that all students in public and private schools must fully comply with all state vaccination requirements unless they obtain a medical exemption, enroll in homeschooling or undertake independent study.

You feel challenged, but also buoyed by federal law stipulating that students who are deemed eligible for special education services receive them. Logically, you believe that such right exists without qualification, notwithstanding any state-level prerogatives.

"Federal law always trumps state law, if they can't be implemented at the same time," says one attorney commenting on the Orange County edict requiring vaccinations for all students.

An Orange County attorney disagrees with that view, noting that, "It's the same rules" for both general education and special education students.

Is it?

The Orange County requirement is set to take effect from July 1 of next year, although things could change, given that authorities from the state Department of Public Health have yet to weigh in on the matter. Federal authorities, too, could have something to say about the memo and proposed legal change.

Persons with questions or concerns regarding the vaccination issue might reasonably want to contact a California special education law and disability attorney for information and guidance.

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