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Colorado

September 2, 2016

Colorado parents no longer have to violate their conscience.

Colorado Agency Backs Down

Today, Colorado parents no longer have to submit to compelled speech in order to exempt their children from immunizations.

A form created in June by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (“CDPHE”) forced parents to sign statements they did not agree with in order to obtain the exemption. HSLDA objected to that language on the grounds that it violated parents’ First Amendment rights.

The new form, posted September 1, simply states that the signer acknowledges “that I have read this document in its entirety.” The online form, which HSLDA does not recommend for use, is in the process of being changed according to the attorney general’s office.

HSLDA and tens of thousands of concerned citizens have been campaigning for weeks to have the form changed.

On August 9, Mike Donnelly, HSLDA’s attorney representing our Colorado members, wrote the CDPHE, warning that legal action was likely if state officials failed to amend the unconstitutional document. A petition we launched a week later protesting the form as an attack on parental rights garnered more than 16,000 signatures.

Just days before we planned to file a federal lawsuit challenging the form, we were contacted by a senior attorney in the Colorado Attorney General’s office. After a week of negotiations, state officials posted the revised form.

How the new form is better

The new form contains a number of important changes; most importantly it no longer compels those who sign it to attest to views with which they disagree.

Additionally, the new form does a better job of respecting and protecting families’ privacy decisions. It contains an authorization box regarding data sharing that parents are not required to sign. The old form presumed permission to share information collected on the document. The current form indicates that if a person does not sign a box at the bottom of the form, he or she is withholding permission from information sharing.

HSLDA appreciates the timely response by the Colorado attorney general’s office to address our constitutional concerns.

What does this mean for your family?

As we noted previously, homeschooling parents who file a notice of intent under Colorado’s non-public home based educational program law (CRS 22-33-104.5) are not required to use this form but should keep a signed statement of exemption—or vaccination records—in the records that the homeschool law requires they keep by statute. In other words, nothing is changing for families that homeschool under the notice of intent option.

Families who enroll their child in an independent private school should seek guidance from their school regarding filing requirements. HSLDA is updating its independent school memorandum and will release the new information early next week to assist independent school administrators in understanding the new regulation. Because there is no deadline or requirement that schools report compliance to the CDPHE or other state agency, there is no immediate need for independent schools or families enrolled with them to take action.

Colorado law requires that children enrolled in nonpublic schools, including homeschools, have a right to equal access to public school activities. For families who participate in public school programs it is likely that the new form will be required. The law requires that these nonpublic school participants be treated the same as public school participants and this would include the requirement that immunization information be provided in the form of evidence of compliance or a valid exemption.

HSLDA’s mission is to protect the right of parents to homeschool and in states where laws provide for equal access HSLDA will assist families who encounter unfair treatment on the grounds that they are homeschooling. If you or your children (either currently or formerly homeschooled) experience unfair treatment because of your choice to homeschool please contact us.

Are there other problems with the new form? Yes.

Although HSLDA believes that the new form does not pose legally challengeable issues under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, we share the concerns raised by many regarding the possibility that that the CDPHE has exceeded its lawful authority by:

  • seeking to impose a mandatory official immunization exemption form as well;
  • collecting immunization information through web forms connected to the Colorado Immunization Information System.

HSLDA members are invited to contact their HSLDA Colorado legal team to get specific answers based on their individual concerns and circumstances.

HSLDA opposed House Bill 1164, which was defeated earlier this year, along with previous legislation that sought to undermine parental rights and to expand the government’s authority to collect sensitive health information. We will continue to work with Colorado homeschoolers to monitor the legislature and oppose similar measures.

Thank you for standing for freedom!

This issue shows why it is important for citizens to be informed and empowered through HSLDA and similar organization that stand up for freedom. We want to thank each of you who supported our fight against the unconstitutional language contained in the old exemption form. And we commend those who are considering taking further action to protect families from unreasonable government intrusion.

We want to thank Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) along with organizations like CCVC, NVIC and CitizenGo who provided helpful input and support during this process.

What’s next? How you can help us be ready for the next unconstitutional challenge

Organizations like HSLDA rely on member support and on the donations of homeschooling families and those who agree with our principles and values. If you are homeschooling but not a member of HSLDA, won’t you consider joining with us to defend the principles of family freedom and autonomy? Even if you aren’t homeschooling but you support our work to stand for these principles, you can support our work with a donation here.