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Historic Public Health and Communicable Disease Cases

Was the health department given the authority to exclude unvaccinated childern from school? - Burroughs v. Mortenson, 143 N.E. 457 (Ill. 1924)

Lester G. Burroughs brought an action through his next friend against the superintendent of his school and others for excluding him from school from June 10 to June 23, 1920 based on a directive from the Commissioner of Health due to a smallpox outbreak. Burroughs refused to be vaccinated for smallpox. It seems that two children that attended the same school as Burroughs were diagnosed by a physician with Chicken Pox.  A sign warning of Chicken Pox was placed on the door by the health inspector.  The same day the Commissioner of Health sent a letter to the superintendent of the school directing him to exclude all children that  had not or would not be vaccinated for smallpox, rather than chicken pox.  The superintendent complied with this directive and several children were excluded. The children and their parents attempted to enter the school each day but were refused.  The parents attempted to inform the superintendent that the sick students had chicken pox and not smallpox in an effort to get the time of exclusion rescinded or decreased.  The superintendent refused to do so. The Supreme Court found that neither the commissioner of health nor the superintendent had been granted statutory authority to order and execute the exclusion of the children from school.  The Supreme Court of Illinois reversed the lower court's dismissal of the case and remanded it for further proceedings stating that "(s)ince there was no rule authorizing the commissioner of health to direct that unvaccinated pupils be excluded from the school and none authorizing the defendants in error to exclude such pupils, it follows that the plaintiff in error was arbitrarily and unlawfully prevented from exercising his right to attend school."

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