With schools, masks, and vaccinations being at the top of many parent’s minds, the recently passed, soon to take effect Amended House Bill (H.B.) 244 has been the subject of much discussion. Set to take effect on October 13, 2021, the relevant amendment of H.B. 244 prohibits public schools from the following:
- Requiring any individual to receive a vaccine that has not been fully approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and,
- Discriminating against any individual who has not received a vaccination, which includes requiring an unvaccinated individual to engage in or refrain from engaging in activities or precautions that differ from the activities or precautions of a vaccinated individual.
In application, H.B. 244 has far-reaching effects in terms of restricting how public school districts and public colleges and universities in Ohio are able to structure their COVID-19 policies.
Under H.B. 244, a public school, college, or university may not require that any student or employee receive a COVID-19 vaccine if the vaccine has not received full FDA approval. Currently all three vaccines being administered in the United States – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen – have only been authorized for emergency use. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have both applied for full approval, but there is no clear timeline on when approval will be granted. This means that unless and until any of these vaccines are fully approved by the FDA, H.B. 244 will prevent vaccine mandates in Ohio public schools.
Additionally, H.B. 244 specifies that Ohio public schools cannot discriminate between vaccinated and unvaccinated persons. Specifically, a public school cannot compel unvaccinated persons to adhere to different restrictions and requirements than vaccinated people. The most visible and prevalent way this will appear is H.B. 244’s application to school mask policies. Under H.B. 244, a public school cannot require unvaccinated persons to wear masks, while permitting vaccinated persons to be mask-free. Practically speaking, H.B. will require public schools to create a one-size-fits-all COVID-19 policy as it relates to vaccine status for the upcoming school year and beyond. Public schools will be unable to incentivize receiving a vaccine with the prospect of an optional mask.
What should also be noted is that H.B. 244 only applies to public schools, colleges, and universities. As such, private educational institutions are not impacted by H.B. 244 and may implement vaccine mandates as well as mask and testing mandates that apply unequally depending upon COVID-19 vaccination status. Despite the inapplicability to private schools, such schools would be wise to be aware of the implications of H.B. 244.
With no federal mandate and a patchwork of policies across the country and the state, the amended provisions of H.B. 244 forces public educational institutions into adopting all or nothing policies related to COVID-19 which they must carefully craft to avoid running afoul of this amended bill.
 Am. H. B. No. 244 (134th G.A.)