From March 13 to April 17, 2019, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) confirmed 43 cases of measles in Michigan, the highest in the state since 1991. Those infected ranged in age from 8 months to 63 years. School officials should look for guidance from MDHHS and their local community health department on how to handle the outbreak, including requirements to exclude certain people from school.
Measles is a highly contagious disease. It spreads through in-person contact and can survive for up to two hours in the air after an infected person has coughed or sneezed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infected people can spread measles up to four days before they begin to exhibit symptoms of the disease, and symptoms appear up to 21 days after exposure. Up to 90% of the people living with an infected person who are not immune to the disease (unvaccinated or otherwise) will also become infected. While MDHHS and local health departments monitor this outbreak, we recommend school officials maintain close communication with local health officials and contact those officials and legal counsel if they have concerns about excluding a student or other person from school.
The Department of Community Health’s Administrative Rules authorize a school official to exclude a student from school if the official “suspects that student has a communicable disease” for a time period long enough to allow a physician or local health official to determine if a communicable disease is present. In addition, local health officials can exclude from school:
Excluding unvaccinated students and others from school is specifically identified as a “disease control measure.” If the local health department requires a person’s exclusion from school due to the measles outbreak, school officials should comply with the law and follow the health department’s instructions.
If school officials exclude students from school, they should ensure student confidentiality. A student’s individual medical history and immunization records are education records under FERPA and cannot be disclosed absent an applicable FERPA exception or parental consent.
Students with disabilities who are excluded from school during an outbreak of a communicable disease are still entitled to a free appropriate public education. The Office for Civil Rights requires schools to “maintain continuity of learning by providing educational services” to students with disabilities who are required or advised by public health officials or school officials to stay home. Depending on how long the student with a disability remains out of school, school officials should consider web-based distance learning, sending assignments home, or providing additional or compensatory academic support when a student returns to school. School officials also may need to organize a meeting of the student’s IEP or 504 team to determine how the student receives FAPE while excluded from school.
If a school employee contracts the measles and must be absent from work, school officials should consult the applicable employment contract or collective bargaining agreement. Some CBAs and contracts provide that an employee’s absence due to diseases like measles, mumps, chicken pox, scarlet fever, shingles, or mononucleosis will not have to use PTO leave to cover the absences, up to a certain number of days. These provisions typically require the employee to provide proof of the illness through a doctor’s statement.
The school also should provide employees with any communications from the local health department about the measles outbreak and encourage employees to ensure they are vaccinated against the disease.