On April 28, 2021, Governor Lamont signed into law House Bill 6423, An Act Concerning Immunizations, which took effect the same day. The new law modifies an existing law, Section 10-204a of the Connecticut General Statutes, which had allowed students enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade to be exempt from statutory immunization requirements based on religious beliefs. In signing this law, Connecticut joins a handful of other states that no longer permit a religious exemption to mandatory vaccination requirements for day cares, schools, or colleges.
Previously, Section 10-204a had permitted religious exemptions from school immunization requirements if the parents or guardian of a child presented a statement to the public or nonpublic school that immunizations would be contrary to the religious beliefs of the child or the child’s parents or guardian. Under the new law, parents are no longer permitted to submit such statement and claim a religious exemption, although certain students with existing religious exemptions will be allowed to continue to use their religious exemption if the child was enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade on or before April 28, 2021 and had a legally recognized religious exemption already on file. Children who, before April 28, 2021, are enrolled in a preschool or other prekindergarten program and had a legally recognized religious exemption on file will be expected to comply with mandatory immunization requirements by the later of September 1, 2022 or fourteen days after transferring to a public or nonpublic school, although they may be permitted to follow an alternative vaccination schedule if supported by a medical recommendation. The new law still permits medical exemptions from certain immunizations in the event a particular immunization is medically contraindicated because of the physical condition of the child, provided certain conditions are satisfied.
In short, under the new law, students attending public and nonpublic schools in Connecticut are no longer permitted to use a religious exemption unless they have met the conditions of the new law’s “grandfather” clause. The “grandfather” clause permits the following students to continue using a religious exemption:
- Any child who is enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade on or before April 28, 2021 and whose parents or guardian had presented a religious exemption before April 28, 2021.
- Any child who transfers to a school in Connecticut, provided that (i) the child was enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade in another Connecticut school on or before April 28, 2021, and (ii) the child’s parents or guardian had presented a religious exemption to the other school or the new school before April 28, 2021.
- Any child who, before April 28, 2021, is enrolled in a preschool program or other prekindergarten program and who had presented a religious exemption, and who did not present a written declaration from a physician, a physician assistant, or an advanced practice registered nurse stating that additional immunizations are in process as recommended by such professionals rather than as recommended under guidelines and schedules specified by the Commissioner of Public Health, but only until the later of September 1, 2022 or fourteen days after transferring to a public or nonpublic school.
In light of the significant changes to the existing exemption framework, Connecticut schools should be prepared to field questions from parents and guardians about a variety of issues regarding the interpretation and application of the new law. Such issues may include, for example, whether students who registered for kindergarten on or before April 28, 2021, but who are not yet attending kindergarten, may use a religious exemption, and whether students who took a year off from school during COVID-19 but who had previously been enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade with a religious exemption on file may continue using the exemption when they re-enroll. Further guidance from the state, state agencies, and/or the legislature regarding the new law may inform the analysis of these and other important issues. In the meantime, please contact Jessica Richman Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org; Julie Fay at email@example.com; Dori Pagé Antonetti at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Sarah Gleason at email@example.com with any questions about the new law.