Colorado Health Choice Alliance

June 28, 2020

SB20-163 has been signed into law, and it will have far-reaching implications for families who choose to exempt from even one vaccine. As we prepare for the coming school year, it is critical that Colorado parents know and understand their rights regarding vaccine exemptions. The purpose of this report is to explain both current exemption statute for fall 2020 and drastic changes under SB20-163 implementation for fall 2021.

CDPHE’s Public Statement Regarding SB20-163

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) recently issued a statement that they do not intend to implement SB20-163 for the 2020-2021 school year. However, since CDPHE does not have the authority to override statute with their own rules, it is uncertain how Colorado schools will choose to implement – or not implement – this bill. If in fact the schools do not implement the changes legislated in SB20-163, schools would revert back to existing law. CHCA expects many schools to tell parents that SB20-163 is in effect in the fall of 2020, when in fact CDPHE has stated that SB20-163 is not in effect in 2020.

Current law: CRS 25-4-903

Colorado parents may claim a vaccine exemption “by submitting to the student’s school a statement of exemption signed by one parent or guardian or the emancipated student or student eighteen years of age or older that the parent, guardian, or student is an adherent to a religious belief whose teachings are opposed to immunizations or that the parent or guardian or the emancipated student or student eighteen years of age or older has a personal belief that is opposed to immunizations.”

This written exemption need only include the date, child’s full name, the declined vaccines, type of exemption, and the child’s age. There is no requirement to provide date-of-birth or any other Personally Identifying Information (PII), nor to specify the personal or religious beliefs of the parent. For example, a parent may write a letter which simply says:

“I, ___________, exempt my child, ___________ ,(age ___), from the (name of vaccines) due to a religious belief which is opposed to vaccines. Signed and dated, ___________.”

CHCA has always advised parents to also include: “I do not consent for this student record to be shared with CDPHE, CIIS, or any person outside of this school staff which would violate my FERPA privacy protections of student records.” Once a vaccine record is uploaded to Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS), HIPAA allows CDPHE to share vaccine records with a long list of entities without transparency. The claims that CIIS is “confidential” or that you can “opt-out” are both false and misleading. CIIS implements a reminder, recall, home visit program to increase vaccine uptake.

Homeschools that are independent from public school programs are required to keep immunizations records and/or statements of exemptions on file within the homeschool.

Exemption Process Changes Legislated in SB20-163

CDPHE has stated their intent to implement the changes laid out in SB20-163 for the 2021-2022 school year. These changes include:

  • A medical professional will complete a medical exemption state form for CIIS instead of signing a private letter for the parent to submit to the school or daycare. This form and data will enable the state to monitor and investigate doctors who write valid vaccine exemptions.
  • Religious and personal belief exemptions will be combined into a “non-medical” exemption.
  • Parents will have two potential options to acquire a “non-medical” exemption:
    • Find a medical professional who will sign a “non-medical” exemption state form. The provider is then incentivized to enter the child’s data into CIIS for either vaccine received or vaccine refusal. Often parents are not notified of this entry of records into CIIS. However, not all medical providers subscribe to CIIS.
    • Complete an online vaccine educational module and either “submit & print” the certificate to CIIS or “print only” for the certificate to be given to the child’s school or daycare. Although the “print only” form states that the data will not be directly stored in CIIS, there is a high likelihood that the school or daycare will submit this state form to CDPHE or manually enter the data for inclusion in CIIS.
  • Any other changes which are promulgated as rules by CDPHE. Sign up for email updates to the monthly Board of Health meetings to monitor if additional vaccine mandates are scheduled for discussion on the agenda for Influenza, HPV, or SARS-CoV-2 for all age groups.

The Purpose of SB20-163: Circumventing FERPA Protections

Colorado parents should understand that the stealth purpose of SB20-163 is to circumvent FERPA protections for children who utilize exemptions. FERPA, or the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, requires that student records (including medical records) cannot be shared outside the school without prior, written parental consent. All of the options in SB20-163 to acquire an exemption will require student data to be uploaded directly to CIIS, thereby circumventing FERPA. Students who receive all vaccines on the Immunization Record retain their FERPA privacy protections, but any student utilizing an exemption forfeits FERPA privacy protections.

Homeschoolers: A Protected Class of Students

For parents who cannot comply with SB20-163, a single option will exist: homeschooling. The bill clearly exempts families who home educate under an independent (umbrella) school. These families will not have access to public school enrichment programs. CHEC an HSLDA have both provided longterm legal advocacy and educational resources for homeschool families in Colorado.

Legal Action for SB20-163

You can be confident that some of the fiercest, most competent attorneys in the country are looking into every possible legal avenue to stop the implementation of SB20-163. However, there can be no legal action until one or more persons’ rights are directly violated by SB20-163. This is known as having a person “in standing.” If you feel your rights have been violated by the enforcement of SB20-163 please send a detailed explanation to CHCA does not offer legal advice or private attorneys, but we can connect you to any ongoing legal action.