Measles Outbreak: Practical Tips

June 3rd, 2019

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.

Excluding Students

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:

  • A student or other person who has a communicable disease, until a physician or lo­cal health official determines the student or individual is no longer a risk; and
  • A person “lacking documentation of immunity or otherwise considered susceptible to the dis­ease,” until the health official determines that the risk of spreading the disease has passed.

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.

Excluding Employees

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.