In Orange County, home to the Disneyland measles outbreak that spread to seven other states and fueled a strict California vaccination law this year, attorneys for the Orange County Department of Education have stated that the new vaccination requirements apply equally to special education students, a group that some thought would be exempt because of their federally protected right to educational services.
In a memo issued last month, the Orange County Department of Education has advised its 28 school districts that students in special education must comply with the law.
Under the law, which goes into effect on July 1, students must be vaccinated before attending school, unless they obtain a medical exemption to the required vaccinations, or enroll in homeschooling or independent study. The law abolished the "personal belief exemption" which allowed parents to refuse to vaccinate their children -- but still send them to public or private school.
“The law doesn’t say (special education students) are exempt,” said Ronald Wenkart, general counsel for the Orange County Department of Education and the author of the memo. If the lawmakers who drafted the legislation had wanted to exempt these students, “they could have put an exemption in there,” he said.
Yet, many parents who opposed the new vaccination law, known as Senate Bill 277, believed that special education students would be exempt. That's because of language in the bill, inserted late in the legislative process, that they felt guaranteed federally-protected educational services no matter what. The law states that it “does not prohibit” a student who qualifies for a special education from “accessing any special education and related services.” No details are provided.