Accommodations for High-Risk Students in Unmasked Schools

Mar 1, 2022 | Accommodations, Covid-19, Medical

As schools drop universal mask mandates, parents are wondering about legal protections for students who are immunocompromised or at high risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19, as these students could be harmed by exposure to persons who choose not to wear masks in school.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protect students who are immunocompromised, or who have a medical condition or disability that puts them at high risk for severe outcomes from Covid-19. These laws require schools to provide disabled students with reasonable accommodations and modifications so they have equal access to safe in-person learning environments.

Families can request accommodations and work with their child’s school to determine accommodations appropriate for their child’s needs. Families may also wish to consult with their child’s medical providers.

Potential accommodations could include:

  • targeted mask requirements in certain rooms or spaces
  • mask requirements for teachers and staff when working with the student
  • modifying seating arrangements and groupings for class projects to provide distance from students who choose to unmask
  • additional air filtration (ie portable HEPA filters)

In several instances, courts have ordered school districts to provide universal masking so high-risk students can attend school safely during the pandemic, and have enjoined enforcement of state mask laws that conflict with the ADA and Section 504. As a federal Court of Appeals recently held, “mask requirements are reasonable accommodations required by federal disability law.”

Importantly, students with disabilities/medical conditions who require these protections should not be isolated, differentiated or removed, because that would be discriminatory, due to their protected status under federal disability laws.