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Virginia colleges mull legality of mandatory COVID vaccine

Virginia universities plan a return to campuses in the fall, but there are questions if the COVID-19 vaccine can be mandated. 



By Hunter Britt

Virginia universities plan a return to campuses in the fall, but there are questions if the COVID-19 vaccine can be mandated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only authorized the vaccine for emergency purposes, according to Lisa Lee, professor of public health at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The vaccine does not yet have full FDA approval.

The vaccine was authorized for emergency use, so people have to be given the choice to take it and be informed of the consequences if they don’t, Lee said.

“Many legal scholars have interpreted that as saying that people cannot be required to take a vaccine that is under an emergency use authorization,” Lee said. “They can be when it has full approval, so that’s where the hitch is.”

Rutgers University in New Jersey may have been the first to require the COVID-19 vaccination for returning fall students, according to Inside Higher Ed, a publication tracking higher education news. Since then, multiple universities have said the vaccine will be mandatory, with accommodations for documented medical or religious exemptions.

Colleges are on unfamiliar legal ground with the decision to require COVID-19 vaccinations, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Currently, Virginia colleges request documentation that a student was vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles and mumps.

Some universities in the District of Columbia and Maryland have announced a mandatory fall vaccine policy, including American, Georgetown, George Washington, Johns Hopkins and Trinity Washington universities.

Virginia universities are still contemplating the legality of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Virginia Tech is currently thinking about this decision and our university spokespeople will keep both the campus community as well as the larger community aware of what they ultimately decide,” Lee said.

Lee said it makes “a lot of sense to mandate the vaccine,” both from a public health and ethical perspective.

“We know that young people tend to gather and that’s what really spreads this infection,” Lee said. “In this pandemic, we have to take care of ourselves for sure, but we also have to take care of each other, and the vaccine helps us do both of those things.”

Mixed reaction to mandatory vaccine

College students across the commonwealth are making their opinions on the vaccine known, and many differ drastically. Grey Mullarkey, a communication arts major at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said the vaccine should be mandatory for college students and employees.

“The only reason I think a student should not be required to have it to come back to campus is if they have an extreme allergic reaction to vaccines,” Mullarkey said. “I think that all the anti-vax propaganda and making the vaccine a political statement is dangerous and completely counterproductive.”

Mullarkey received a free COVID-19 vaccine through VCU. The process was “quick, easy, and not painful,” Mullarkey said.

Other students said the vaccine is too new to be mandatory. Dajia Perry, a psychology major at VCU, said the vaccine shouldn’t be required until it has undergone more testing.

“I feel like it’s good that we have a vaccine, but I also think the process was rushed,” Perry said. “As of right now, making it mandatory would make me more reluctant to take it because I would feel like it’s being pushed on me.”

Federal health agencies called for a pause of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this month due to reports of blood clots in some individuals who received it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA said these effects “appear to be extremely rare.” Virginia stopped administering the vaccine until the investigation is complete.

Colleges instead are offering employees and students two-dose COVID-19 vaccines. Virginia Tech had sufficient availability of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Mark Owczarski, associate vice president for university relations at Tech, stated over email.

“Virginia Tech has been working with the New River Health District to avail vaccines to all our employees and to all our students,” Owczarski stated.

Tech will continue hosting vaccination clinics until demand has been met, according to Owczarski.

VCU used its Moderna and Pfizer vaccine supply to honor J&J vaccine appointments on the day the latter vaccine was paused.

Fall transition to campus

Virginia universities are announcing a transition back to in-person classes for the fall semester.

VCU will offer in-person and online classes. The university will cap capacity in most buildings, and require employees and students to wear masks and complete a daily health survey.

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville will also return to in-person instruction. The university will provide more details about health and safety plans by July 15.

“After a year in which the pandemic disrupted nearly everything about the UVA experience, we are eager to get back to living, learning, and working together here in Charlottesville and we know you are too,” U.Va. President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis wrote in a statement.

Tech is currently preparing for a fully in-person fall semester. President Tim Sands stated last month that he is hopeful for a “pre-pandemic experience.”

Many college students are also hopeful for a return to an in-person, college experience. Greta Roberson, a student and employee at George Mason University in Fairfax, said that she and her fellow coworkers were excited about the vaccine and were among the first at Mason to get vaccinated.

“George Mason is pretty liberal and open-minded, so I think the vaccine is a welcome thing for the Mason community,” Roberson said.

Mason plans to offer at least 75% of instruction on campus and to expand residence hall capacity to “near normal levels.” Masks and testing will still be required until public health guidance changes.

Forty percent of Virginians have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Virginia Department of Health.



The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Governor Signs Executive Order Lifting Mask Mandate, RPS and Others Plan to Keep Masks in Schools

Covid-19 is still here and masks are one tool in the arsenal to prevent sickness and in some cases death.



In 2020, with support from both sides of the aisle, the legislature signed a law requiring schools to follow CDC guidance. That guidance currently recommends universal mask-wearing in schools. The CDC can’t “require” any measure but leaves that up to the schools. This weekend the new Republican Governor Youngkin signed an Executive Order stating that parents must be allowed to decide whether their child wears a mask in school, regardless of federal or district-level rules. This new rule will go into place on January 24th.

Sixteen school districts including Richmond and Henrico have stated their intention to keep mask mandates in place.

  • Arlington
  • Montgomery
  • Fairfax
  • Loudoun
  • Henrico
  • Richmond
  • Alexandria
  • Prince William
  • Roanoke
  • Pulaski
  • Charlottesville
  • Albemarle
  • Norfolk
  • Chesapeake
  • Fredersicksburg
  • Nelson

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamaras issued the following statement yesterday. The statement also touches on another Executive Order that is attempting to fight the non-existent boogeyman that is Critical Race Theory.

Dear #RPSStrong Family,

Normally, I wouldn’t be sending an RPS Direct this evening, as we’re closed today. However, in light of recent events at the state level, I felt it was important to reach out.

Masks – As I shared via social media this weekend, RPS will maintain its 100% mask-wearing policy for all students, staff, and families. The science is clear: masks are safe and effective. Per the CDC“Experimental and epidemiologic data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2…The relationship between source control and wearer protection is likely complementary and possibly synergistic, so that individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use.”

Despite the Governor’s Executive Order #2, we believe we have the legal authority to maintain our mandate. Senate Bill 1303, signed into law last year, stipulates that Virginia school divisions must offer in-person instruction, and: “[P]rovide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” 

Therefore, we are actually mandated by Virginia law to follow CDC guidance, and to do so “to the maximum extent practicable.” Given the CDC’s clear position on mask-wearing in schools, our charge is clear: maintain our mandate. Towards that end, School Board Members Burke and Doerr will be introducing a resolution to reaffirm our 100% mask-wearing requirement at tomorrow’s School Board meeting. 

Updated Isolation and Quarantine Guidance – One of the key topics that came up last night during the town hall hosted by Chair Harris-Muhammed and Vice-Chair Gibson was confusion over isolation and quarantine protocols, given evolving guidance from the CDC. To clarify matters, we have updated our guidance in collaboration with the Richmond City Health District, and will be implementing it starting tomorrow. If you have any questions after reviewing the updated protocols, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

“Divisive Concepts” – The Governor’s Executive Order #1 bans the teaching of critical race theory and other “divisive” concepts. First, as has been widely discussed in the news media over the past year, critical race theory is a graduate-level framework that’s not taught in K-12 schools. As for the far more nebulous prohibition against teaching divisive concepts, all I can say is this: At RPS, we will continue to honestly study the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia was literally created on the backs of enslaved Africans, and we will continue to help our students understand the connection between that history and the injustices that still grip our community today – in education, housing, healthcare, the legal system, and more.

To quote Dr. King in honor of today’s celebration: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” That’s what we’ll continue to do no matter how painful the truth of our past may be. It’s only by fostering a deep understanding of how we arrived at the present will we equip our students to create a more just and equitable future.

With great appreciation,

Yesterday the Virginia Chapter of Pediatricians spoke out in favor of keeping masks in school




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University of Richmond announces new Dean of Arts & Sciences

Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh, an accomplished administrator and noted Theater History scholar, will join the UR community in July.



Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh, who currently serves as the dean of the faculty at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, will become dean of the University of Richmond’s School of Arts & Sciences July 1.

“Professor Cavenaugh is a champion of the liberal arts and an accomplished scholar and academic leader,” said University of Richmond President Kevin F. Hallock. “I eagerly look forward to her joining us this coming summer and am excited about her leading our terrific School of Arts & Sciences.”

“Having a long history of being a strong proponent of faculty development and an active participant in shared governance, Dr. Cavenaugh will be a great addition to the University,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Jeff Legro. “She has deep experience in recruiting, hiring, and retaining an outstanding diverse faculty and in strengthening an academic community, which are also priorities at UR.”

In addition to her role as dean of the faculty, Cavenaugh is the Winifred M. Warden Endowed Chair of Theatre & Dance at Rollins. Cavenaugh previously served for four years as the associate dean of Arts & Sciences. She also spent three years as producing artistic director of the Annie Russell Theater.

Cavenaugh’s areas of teaching and research include gender and performance, theater history, script analysis, and American musical theater. Her book Medea’s Daughters: Forming and Performing Women Who Kill examines representations of women criminals in plays and television. She is a member of Actor’s Equity and has performed and directed for over 25 years. She is the recipient of numerous teaching and research awards.

“The University of Richmond’s teacher-scholar model and its commitment to a liberal arts education and to undergraduate research drew me in immediately,” said Cavenaugh. “I look forward to working with such a vibrant community.”

Cavenaugh earned her undergraduate degree in policy studies at Dartmouth College, her MFA in dramaturgy from Brooklyn College, and her Ph.D. in theater history and dramatic criticism at the University of Washington.

All University of Richmond students begin their college journey in the School of Arts & Sciences, which is home to 23 departments and 13 interdisciplinary programs, and more than 300 faculty and staff. The School’s world-class faculty lead top-tier research programs while teaching in the small, intimate classrooms of a liberal arts college and work closely with students in scholarship and creative expression. The faculty of Arts & Sciences boasts a number of leading national research fellowships, including grants from Fulbright, Guggenheim, NSF, NEH, and NIH.



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Virginia‘s Community Colleges announce expansion of credits for prior learning and life experiences

Part of Lumina Foundation’s ‘All Learning Counts’ initiative, under the program, any adult learner can earn college credits for life experiences.



Virginia’s Community Colleges, the umbrella organization of Virginia’s community college system, have launched an expanded version of the organization’s Credits2Careers portal, allowing more adult learners to be aware they may be eligible for college credit based on their prior learning and experience.

Before the expansion, the Credits2Career portal only served individuals with military experience, translating their service into college credits.

The expansion of the portal, which includes statewide curriculum crosswalking, is made possible due to a generous grant from the Lumina Foundation as part of its All Learning Counts Initiative. In 2019, the Foundation awarded $3.5 million in grants to nine organizations across the nation committed to building clearer pathways to degrees and other credentials for adults.

Virginia’s Community Colleges was one of the nine recipients, and the only recipient from Virginia.

“Learning can take place in all kinds of settings, especially today, as many individuals have hybrid work models allowing for increased flexibility,” said Randall Stamper, assistant vice chancellor for grants and workforce programs at the community college system. “Whether it’s in the military, on the job or in an exam, Virginians deserve to be credited for their learning, even the learning taking place outside of a classroom.”

The grant has enabled Virginia’s Community Colleges to correlate military training, professional development, workforce and career certifications to courses within its course catalog, allowing all adult learners to jumpstart their paths to a college degree by earning college credit for certain life experiences without having to start the education process at ground zero.

Credits2Careers and the All Learning Counts initiative aim to make the path to a degree more easily obtained. By validating experiences and learning out of the classroom, adult learners will get their degree faster and for less out of pocket, lowering the bar for individuals to seek out and complete a postsecondary education.

“Applying and enrolling in school can be daunting, especially for adults juggling a family and a job, but the launch of the new Credits2Careers portal makes it easier to see how many credits an individual has and what they need to show to cash them in,” said Jenny Carter, director of workforce partnerships and projects. “We’re grateful to the Lumnina Foundation for helping make this effort a reality, and we’re even more grateful that Virginia adult learners are one step closer to accessible education.”

Individuals looking to explore the Credits to Careers portal can create an account at



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