JMU’s Board of Visitors (BoV) met May 19 to reaffirm its future plans regarding COVID-19, including the collection of vaccine records and the possibility of a vaccination requirement for students, faculty and staff. The meeting was held in an open session over WebEx with no opportunities for public comment.
President Jonathan Alger welcomed the attendees before going into detail about how other Virginia universities are handling vaccine requirements. Last month, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring said the state’s colleges and universities can require students to get the COVID-19 vaccine before attending in-person classes and activities — there’s no federal law that forbids this.
“Of course, as you all have seen, information and guidance continues to evolve very quickly when it comes to the pandemic and related steps,” Alger said. “So, we'll need to be nimble as an institution going forward regarding vaccines and boosters, testing and other aspects of pandemic management just as we've done over the past year.”
Alger said institutions like William & Mary, Bridgewater College and Mary Baldwin University have already announced student vaccination requirements for the fall. He added that over 360 institutions of higher education nationwide have announced these kinds of requirements, and in some cases, they include employees as well. He referenced the American College Health Association, which recommended COVID-19 vaccine requirements for on-campus college students in a statement.
Alger said religious and medical exemptions — which are allowed for all mandatory immunizations — are permitted with the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. When it comes to administering this requirement at JMU, he said the university has been consulting with the Employee Advisory Committee, the University Health Center (UHC), the President’s Cabinet and other academic leaders.
Immunization records for the incoming class of 2025 are starting to be collected, Alger said, and the university is currently reviewing student and employee vaccine records from the Commonwealth’s vaccine system.
“Based on the data that we've collected so far, a majority of JMU students and employees are already vaccinated,” Alger said.
Alger concluded this portion by saying that when decisions are made regarding COVID-19 regulations, they’ll be communicated to the JMU community with frequently asked questions as needed and a general COVID-19 email helpline. Deborah Johnson, vice rector for the BoV, then made a motion that Alger, the university and its administration would continue to have the authority to manage JMU’s response to the pandemic. Board member John Rothenberger seconded this motion.
Before voting, rector Lara Major invited the board to ask questions or provide any points of discussion. Board member Lucy Hutchinson said that whatever the university decides for students, it's important for it to be consistent for faculty and staff as well. Alger said there are legal differences between students and employees that the university must work through when it comes to keeping COVID-19 regulations consistent for everyone.
Johnson then asked if there would be a statement about the availability of virtual classes, to which Alger replied that the university is trying to go back to in-person classes “to the extent possible.” On March 24, Alger announced that fall classes would be in person in an email. Heather Coltman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said certain classes would be flexible and offered virtually, but returning in person was a priority.
“We did prioritize keeping the freshman experience as much as we could face-to-face,” Coltman said. “We’re roughly 92% in person, and that is really, very similar to what we were pre-pandemic.”
The discussion then shifted to vaccine data — Major asked how the collection of COVID-19 vaccine information was being conducted and if it was similar to other immunization data collection. Vice President for Student Affairs Tim Miller said the university would be following its current model, and that the only difference was that it’d be collecting data from existing students, not just incoming freshmen. Students must provide proof of their COVID-19 vaccine by showing their vaccination card rather than verbal proof.
The meeting ended with the voting on Johnson’s earlier motion, which passed unanimously.
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