Legal Preparedness for School Closures in Response to Pandemic Influenza and Other Emergencies
Schools play a critical role in protecting the health of their students, staff, and the community from highly contagious, infectious diseases such as seasonal or pandemic influenza. Modeling and analyses conducted by CDC and others indicate, for example, that community-wide school closures may mitigate the incidence of pandemic influenza, thereby reducing its impact on individuals, groups, healthcare providers, public health systems, and the economy. The public health premise is that dismissing schools may help limit the spread of influenza (or other communicable conditions) consistent with social distancing theories. Local, state, and federal agencies, however, have incomplete and inconsistent information about the relevant laws and policies that may allow school closure or other measures in public health emergencies.
Accordingly, CDC commissioned the Centers to review the state-level legal framework for reducing the density of school classrooms, with specific focus on closure of schools, as a social distancing or social mitigation measure to slow the spread of an H5N1 influenza pandemic or similar highly contagious infectious disease. The Centers restricted its scope of inquiry to laws adopted at the state level as of Dec. 2006 that expressly address school closure. The study did not address any relevant laws adopted at the local level, nor did it address any relevant general communicable disease or other laws. For the purpose of this analyses, “schools” are defined to include public and private schools that admit students in grades kindergarten (K) through twelve (12).
As initially presented at the 2007 Local, State, and Federal Public Health Preparedness Summit on February 22, 2022 in a presentation entitled, Assessing Legal Preparedness for School Closures in Response to Pandemic Influenza and other Public Health Emergencies, while nearly every state may feature general communicable disease laws during non-emergencies or broad emergency powers that may authorize school closures, the Center’s report primarily tracks those legal provisions that (1) specifically allow for school closure for communicable disease control or general purposes, or (2) allow for the closure of facilities (that may include schools), for extended periods of time (potentially up to 12 weeks).
The Centers’ report, Legal Preparedness for School Closures in Response to Pandemic Influenza and Other Emergencies, presents a summary description and authors’ analyses of express state laws concerning school closure. The report is also accessible via CDC’s Public Health Law Program and the federal government’s PanFlu.Gov website.