A photo illustration shows a child and parents looking at a syringe.
Photo illustration. (Moy Zhong/The Beacon).

Now that children 12 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, what does it mean for parents who disagree on whether their child should get it? Can schools require students to get the vaccine?

The Beacon reached out to legal experts to get some answers about these topics and more.

Since May 12, when the vaccine became available to youths, thousands across the region have gotten vaccinated.

As more parents consider vaccinations for their children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children over 12 get vaccinated and offers tips to help parents prepare their child for the vaccine.

With the vaccine come issues for parents to consider — and possibly new legal cases, local experts say.

If my child’s other parent and I disagree about the COVID-19 vaccination, what do we do?

If the parents are divorced and are both on equal footing when it comes to making health care decisions and a parenting plan doesn’t directly include vaccinations, then the parent wanting to vaccinate their child would have to either file a motion to modify their parenting plan or bring some other motion before the court, said Chad Courtney, lawyer with Courtney & Mills, LLC in Springfield, Missouri.

Some court-sanctioned parenting plans have a contingency that says if the parents disagree, then they need to rely on their child’s doctor’s recommendation. But in many cases, the parenting plan isn’t so detailed, Courtney said.

“I can tell you that in relationship to other vaccines, most of the time the judges come down on the side of ordering the child to have a vaccination as a precautionary measure versus not having it,” he said.

What if the father hasn’t filed a paternity suit yet?

A father doesn’t have any legal rights until a paternity suit is filed, Courtney said. In that case, if a mother doesn’t want to get the vaccine, the mother’s opinion would take precedence until a father asserts his rights by filing for paternity.

I’m under 18, and my parents don’t want me to get vaccinated. What can I do?

The only way a minor could get the vaccine without parental approval is to be emancipated, Courtney said. Some 17-year-olds are emancipated, but it is rare for 16-year-olds to be.

Are local schools requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for children to attend?

A representative for Kansas City Public Schools, Kelly Wachel, said the district has yet to have formal discussions about whether a COVID-19 vaccination will be required for students. KCPS plans to consult health partners and experts to help guide how it will move forward.

The school district currently requires children who enroll to have all of Missouri’s state-mandated vaccines, allowing for religious and medical exemptions.

All children under eighth grade need to have the diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella, hepatitis B, and chickenpox vaccines. Starting in eighth grade, children need to have the diphtheria pertussis and polio vaccine booster and the meningococcal vaccine.

They aren’t required to get the yearly flu vaccine.

Some colleges have announced they are requiring COVID-19 vaccines for attendance in the fall. Many colleges already require immunizations like for meningococcal disease, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and polio.

Can schools force my child to be vaccinated?

No. But schools can make being vaccinated for COVID-19 a condition for someone to enter its premises, or to be employed by them, said Najarian Peters, an associate professor of law at the University of Kansas.

Is it a violation of privacy for a school to require vaccination information?

No. Talking about privacy related to vaccinations at a school is legally different from health information privacy

“We are talking about privacy that deals with health information, but it’s not a covered entity like a hospital or an insurer,” Peters said. “So a school is not considered a covered entity.”

While some people argue they shouldn’t have to disclose personal information, there are already many precedents of disclosing vaccination information, Peters said. Kids already have vaccination cards that are used for enrolling at schools.

Is there a difference between public and private schools in requiring vaccination?

There is an argument that private schools could have more leeway in requiring vaccinations for students, Peters said. It depends on if the private school receives any federal funding, but technically private schools are not covered under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, so there is no chance for there to be a violation of FERPA.

“But when it comes to vaccinations, all entities have the ability by law to act with levels of reasonability to protect the safety and welfare of people who congregate in its spaces,” Peters said.

Any privacy argument, whether at a private or public school, has to be weighed against safety and welfare concerns.

Is it discrimination for schools to require vaccines for students?

Someone could claim schools are discriminating by requiring COVID-19 vaccination but would have to undergo a review of strict scrutiny to try to prove it, Peters said.

If there is a reasonable justification for something like a COVID-19 vaccination requirement, a discrimination argument likely won’t succeed, Peters said.

“In this case, because we have a global pandemic and the overarching impetus about safety and welfare, discrimination would probably fare just as well as the privacy argument does,” Peters said.

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Brittany Callan covered health and environment at The Beacon, and was a Report for America corps member for 2020-2021. Funding for this reporting was provided in part by the Health Forward Foundation.