A debate over Hoosier students’ vaccination records ensued at the Indiana Statehouse Wednesday as lawmakers weighed a bill that seeks to prohibit schools from coupling health and academic documents.
Current state law permits schools to include a student’s immunization information with their high school transcript. Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, maintained that doing so is a violation of a student’s privacy rights.
His bill to outlaw the practice was heard in the House Education Committee Wednesday.
“Health records should remain distinctly separate,” Zay said. “The underlying tone of this bill is to define (immunizations) as health considerations that are the privacy of the family, the parents and their children, and it should not be a part of the educational record.”
The bill as currently drafted also establishes new first aid guidelines for school emergencies, like providing services for sick or injured kids, and performing first aid procedures.
But Democrats and education advocates had mixed responses.
While some called the immunization provision “unnecessary,” others admonished it as an issue of clashing “philosophies.”
“I think you reject the concept of public health and reject the role of the public schools in helping public health,” said Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis.
The bill remains in the House Education Committee. Indianapolis Republican Rep. Bob Behning, the committee chairman, said he reserves the right to decide what lawmakers will do with the bill next week.
Keeping health and academic records “distinctly separate”
Zay maintained that students applying to college should not have their vaccination records automatically sent to higher education institutions.
“I think (immunization records) should remain with the family and the individuals, and if a university asks for those records, that’s between them,” Zay said. “I think that our children, or anyone applying for admission to university, should be accepted on the merits of their academic performance”
The senator added that he is not seeking to prohibit schools from having and implementing vaccination policies, but said a disclosure of health records is more appropriate during the registration process, after a student has already been admitted.
Patrick Glew with the Indiana Immunization Coalition pushed back, noting that student vaccination records fall under the auspices of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Under FERPA, parents can already opt out of having their kids’ immunization records enjoined with transcripts.
“This bill is purposeless,” Glew said Wednesday. “If we’re concerned that parents don’t know about this option, then the issue becomes, why don’t we inform them?”
Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association (ISBA), opposed the bill in whole.
He said school nurses don’t need any new guidelines, citing statewide requirements – including for training – that are already in place.
Spradlin pointed to similar immunization language that’s already in a separate measure, House Bill 1635. That proposal, an omnibus education bill, is currently under consideration in the Senate Education Committee.
“This is simply a bill that’s not needed,” he said.
But Chris Lagoni, executive director of the Indiana Rural Schools Association, said dozens of schools across the state are open to the immunization provision.
“We don’t have a problem working with parents, changing the learning management systems, so that transcripts don’t put immunization records on there,” said Lagoni, whose organization represents 153 Indiana school districts, about half of those in the state.
An earlier version of Zay’s bill additionally intended to to set out new guidelines for school-based health clinics, including a requirement for such centers to inform parents “every step of the way,” above and beyond the regular duties of a school nurse, about services or treatments provided to students in those settings.
That language was removed in the Senate, but Zay is seeking to bring it back in the House.
“As parents, would you ever drop your child off at a doctor’s office and say, ‘Oh, we’ll come back and get you later?’ No, you wouldn’t,” Zay said Wednesday while discussing a potential amendment to the bill that would require school-based health centers to obtain parental consent before providing care to minor students. “We don’t want these clinics offering any services of any sort without the parents knowing.”
Other bills on the move
Meanwhile, a bill to require Indiana’s high school seniors to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) advanced 11-1 from the House Education Committee after lawmakers adopted an amendment to sunset the provisions in 2033.
Rep. Jake Teshka, R-South Bend, said that prompts legislators to revisit the FAFSA requirements later to determine if it’s “working” or no longer needed.
The FAFSA mandate has been proposed at the Indiana Statehouse the last several years but has yet to make it across the finish line. Only 36 percent of Indiana’s 2023 high school graduates have completed a FAFSA form as of March 9, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (CHE).
Another bill to increase students’ access to college and university transcripts also passed out of the education committee and to the full House chamber.
A measure to bring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program to the entire state passed out of the committee, too.
Gov. Eric Holcomb’s budget proposed $4.1 million to implement the program, which provides every child up to age 5 with one book each month. It wasn’t included in the House-approved budget, however. Negotiations over the state’s next two-year spending plan are ongoing.
In the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, a bill that would automatically enroll eligible Hoosier students into the 21st Century Scholars Program – a statewide grant program that funds lower income student attendance at two- and four-year schools – advanced to the Appropriations Committee.
Senators also advanced a proposal to provide grants to eligible Indiana schools and robotics teams. That bill also heads to the Appropriations Committee.