School & District Management

Do Teachers Have to Disclose Their Vaccination Status? Experts Weigh In

By Madeline Will — March 24, 2021 3 min read
Vaccine record.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Now that teachers across the country are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, how many in any given school have gotten a jab?

Nationally, there are little data on teacher vaccination rates, and that’s partially because many school districts have not been keeping track of which of their employees have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. District leaders also say they are wary of violating their employees’ privacy.

But vaccinating educators has largely been considered a critical component of reopening school buildings safely. Teachers and parents want to know how many staff members in a school are inoculated against COVID-19, especially since vaccines for young children are many months away.

How can districts balance the competing priorities of privacy and transparency? Education Week spoke to Robert Field, a professor of law and health management and policy at Drexel University, and Stacie Kershner, the associate director of the Center for Law, Health, and Society at Georgia State University College of Law, to answer some of the most pressing questions currently facing schools about teachers and COVID-19 vaccines.

Can school or district leaders require teachers to get vaccinated?

Not yet. Because the COVID-19 vaccines are currently under emergency use authorization, the legal consensus is that mandates are not permissible.

Once the vaccines have full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, employers could mandate them. But they will still have to make exceptions for individuals with certain medical conditions or religious beliefs when imposing any requirements.

Read Next

Image of a needle and vaccine bottle.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Why Teacher Vaccinations Are So Hard to Track
Madeline Will, March 24, 2021
6 min read

Can school or district leaders require teachers to disclose whether they’ve been vaccinated?

Yes, but they will need to be cautious about the types of questions they’re asking. The Americans With Disabilities Act protects employees from sharing disability-related information with their employers. While the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that asking whether an employee has gotten a COVID-19 vaccine is not a disability-related inquiry, subsequent questions—like asking why an employee hasn’t gotten vaccinated—could be.

Employers can ask disability-related questions if they comply with the ADA standard of being “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” Employers would have to argue that an unvaccinated employee would pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others, and then offer a reasonable accommodation, such as remote work or continuing mitigation measures, to an employee who cannot be vaccinated.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said teacher vaccinations are not a prerequisite for reopening school buildings. It’s still unknown to what extent the vaccines prevent transmission of COVID-19, so the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends not distinguishing between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees for the purposes of mitigation measures, such as masking or distancing. Also, in some places, teachers might not have had the opportunity to get vaccinated yet.

For now, “I think most schools would steer clear of testing the legal limits in terms of requiring [a response],” Field said, adding that districts might instead administer a survey where teachers can respond that they have been vaccinated, they have not, or they prefer not to answer. That would still give administrators the information they need to make operational decisions, he said.

Can administrators share the percentage of vaccinated staff with parents and the community?

Yes. Sharing the aggregated data of how many teachers in a school or district are currently vaccinated does not violate anyone’s privacy, the experts said. It’s also in the public interest.

“You want people to feel assured” about the safety of schools, Kershner said. “That’s good for teachers to know, too.”

Can administrators tell parents whether a specific teacher has been vaccinated?

No. State and local privacy laws typically prohibit employers from disclosing their employees’ medical information. (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, which is the federal law restricting release of medical information, generally does not apply to school districts. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, also would not apply in this situation—it protects the privacy of student education records, not teachers’ records.)

However, parents of children with complex medical needs who are at greater risk for serious COVID-19 symptoms might especially want to know if their child’s teacher or aide is vaccinated, Kershner said. In those rare situations, she said, it could be possible to include in the student’s individualized education program that the child be placed with vaccinated teachers.

A version of this article appeared in the March 31, 2021 edition of Education Week as Do Teachers Have to Disclose Their Vaccination Status? Experts Weigh In

Events

Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
Mission Possible: Saving Time While Improving Student Outcomes
Learn how district leaders are maximizing instructional time and finding the best resources for student success through their MTSS framework.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Reading & Literacy K-12 Essentials Forum Writing and the Science of Reading
Join us for this free event as we highlight and discuss the intersection of reading and writing with Education Week reporters and expert guests.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Photo Essay PHOTOS: A Superintendent Who Exudes Joy in All Things
EdWeek photographer Sam Mallon reflects on her day with Richard Tomko, a 2023 Leaders to Learn From honoree.
2 min read
During a visit to the new Belleville Indoor Training Facility, Richard Tomko, Superintendent of Belleville Public Schools, speaks with Carolyn Guancione, Indoor Training Facility Support Staff, about how the space continues to transform, in Belleville, N.J., on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. The new training facility was built to facilitate and accommodate general physical activity and training for sports teams within the school system and the greater Belleville community.
Richard Tomko, the superintendent of Belleville public schools, speaks with Carolyn Gancione during a visit to the district's new indoor training facility, which is shared with the community.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
School & District Management Opinion Your School Leadership Needs More Student Voice
When one Virginia principal moved from middle school to high school, he knew he would need to find new ways of soliciting student feedback.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
3 min read
Illustration of students holding speech bubbles.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management First Latina Selected to Lead National Principals Group
Raquel Martinez is a middle school principal in Pasco, Wash.
3 min read
Raquel Martinez, the principal of Stevens Middle School, in Pasco, Wash., was named president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. She’s the first Latina to hold the position.
Raquel Martinez, the principal of Stevens Middle School, in Pasco, Wash., was named president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. She’s the first Latina to hold the position.
Courtesy of the National Association of Secondary School Principals
School & District Management Four Things to Know From a State's Push to Switch Schools to Heat Pumps
Installing a heat pump is complex, but the payoff is well worth it, says an expert in Maine who's pushing their adoption in schools.
4 min read
Close up of a heat pump against a brick wall
E+/Getty