The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. Regular operations have been disrupted in every corner of our society — from businesses to schools and communities.
Over the past 13 months, universities have been setting new policies and guidelines for students in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. And now, as vaccines are becoming available for more and more people, universities are beginning to debate whether they should require all students to be vaccinated before returning to school in the Fall 2021 semester.
A few colleges and universities around the country have already issued these vaccine mandates, but what about universities in the Washington, DC area? And are these vaccine mandates legally permissible, or do they violate students’ civil liberties?
Below, student defense attorney Shan Wu answers all your questions about university vaccine mandates in DC.
Are DC universities requiring vaccinations?
In late March, Rutgers University became the first university to publicly announce that students will need to be vaccinated in order to return to school in the fall. Since then, several other schools around the country have followed suit.
As of the first week of April, our team at DC Student Defense is not aware of any universities in the DC area that have officially announced a vaccine mandate for the fall. However, in an article for the Washington Business Journal, several college administrators discussed the possibility of their institutions introducing vaccine mandates:
- George Mason University President Gregory Washington said that he feels “very strongly that students should be vaccinated” in the fall.
- George Washington University’s Lynn Goldman, dean of the public health college, said that their university is also considering a vaccine mandate, but is still undecided.
- Northern Virginia Community College President Anne Kress seemed to indicate that the college is leaning away from implementing a vaccine mandate.
So, it seems that George Mason University will likely announce a mandate at some point, while Northern Virginia Community College likely will not.
The only way to know for sure if your school will implement a vaccine mandate is to wait for the official announcement. While you wait, you might consider reaching out to close professors or administrators to see if they have any insight into how the discussion is going.
Can universities legally require vaccinations?
As universities begin to introduce these vaccine mandates, many students and parents are likely wondering whether universities can legally require students to be vaccinated in order to attend in-person classes.
The answer is uncertain. There is precedent for universities requiring certain immunizations before students are allowed to attend. District law requires that all students be up to date on their immunizations in order to attend certain colleges and universities.
Rutgers University has also built medical and religious exemptions into their vaccine policy, in addition to an opportunity to opt out and take remote classes. Since most other schools implementing mandates will likely follow suit, it’s unclear whether these policies could be challenged on the basis of civil rights or discrimination.
Nonetheless, there will no doubt be many lawsuits and court cases exploring this very question in the coming months.
What to do if your university accuses you of a COVID -19 policy violation
Whether it’s a vaccine mandate, social distancing requirements, or contact tracing, there are lots of ways to get in trouble at your school for not following COVID -19 policy to the letter.
If you’re found to be in violation of your school’s COVID-19 policy, you could face disciplinary charges, academic consequences, or other repercussions.
Here are 3 steps to take if your university accuses you of a COVID-19 policy violation:
- Read through the official accusation and your school’s COVID -19 policy to make sure you understand everything that you’re being accused of, and whether you actually did what they’re claiming.
- Don’t talk to anyone at your school about the accusation: This includes professors, friends and classmates, and especially on social media.
- Contact a student defense attorney who has experience defending students against disciplinary charges and COVID violation accusations. An experienced attorney will know exactly what evidence you’ll need to gather to support your side, and how to defend your rights from being violated by your university.
Contact a DC student defense attorney today
At DC Student Defense, our team has represented hundreds of students accused of conduct violations, both in university disciplinary proceedings and in the court of law.
If you face any trouble with a vaccine mandate in the future, or if you’ve been accused of violating your school’s COVID policies at all, don’t hesitate to contact us and schedule a consultation to talk about your case.
These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.