The legal landscape for school closures in response to pandemic flu or other public health threats

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Together with other nonpharmaceutical interventions in response to pandemic influenza or other public health emergencies, communitywide closure of schools (grades K-12) for up to several weeks may mitigate the impacts of pandemic flu or other public health threats across populations. Though debatable, the public health premise is that closing schools could limit the spread of influenza (or other communicable conditions), consistent with social distancing theories. This presumes that laws support school closures for extended time periods during each wave of an influenza pandemic. However, government agencies and others have incomplete and inconsistent information about whether laws authorize long-term school closure for public health purposes in routine and emergency circumstances. As a result, the Centers for Law and the Public's Health: A Collaborative at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities examined laws that expressly authorize school closure due to pandemic flu or other public health threats in 52 U.S. jurisdictions. While school closure is legally possible in most jurisdictions during routine and emergency circumstances, significant legal issues remain. When can schools be closed for public health purposes, and under what standards? Which levels and departments of government are actually responsible for closing schools? How does an emergency declaration affect government authority to close schools? This article explains the Center's study methodology, presents major findings on express laws allowing for school closure, and discusses legal issues underlying school closures during nonemergencies and declared emergencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-50
Number of pages6
JournalBiosecurity and Bioterrorism
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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