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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. 

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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.

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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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Virginia Museum of History & Culture Offers Professional Development Programming for Educators

Primarily Virginia is an online course designed for K-12 teachers to explore Virginia’s past through objects and primary sources.

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As part of its summer programming, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC) will offer a series of professional development workshops for teachers both in person and virtually.

Primarily Virginia is an online course designed for K-12 teachers to explore Virginia’s past through objects and primary sources. All course work is completed online and there is no required in person meetings. By participating in the online course, educators can earn up to 45 recertification points, and thanks to the generosity of the WestRock Foundation, the online course is free of charge to Virginia teachers. The course is offered three times a year and will begin on June 27th, 2022. Registration must be completed by June 25th.

The Weinstein Properties Story of Virginia Teachers Institute invites educators to participate in a weeklong program that examines Virginia’s history, government, and geography through exhibition tours, guest speakers, primary source analysis, and self-guided tours of the museum.

The program is offered twice each summer to both private and public school teachers of any grade level, with the first session beginning July 11th- July 15th . This session will cover general Virginia history, and registration information can be found here. The second session runs from July 25th-July 29th and will focus on the museum’s largest new exhibition, Our Commonwealth. Registration information for this session can be found here.

Each of the Weinstein Properties Summer Teachers Institutes are held at the Virginia Museum of History & culture and include a day-long field trip to the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville, Virginia. The cost for each session is $50 which will be refunded upon completion of the class. Materials and lunch will also be provided free of charge and educators who participate will be eligible for recertification points.

The Virginia Museum of History & Culture is proud to serve as an aid and resource to educators in Virginia by offering updated content, structured training, and an open forum to share ideas. In addition to the Teachers Institute, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture will also be partnering with other cultural institutes to offer programming this summer for educators. A workshop entitled Power of the People: Engaging with American Democracy is being held at the museum on June 28th in partnership with the Library of Virginia. Registration information for this workshop can be found here. Educators are also encouraged to register for the August 10th & 11th workshop in partnership with five Richmond area museums, entitled Monumental Moments: Public Art and Public Memory.

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Field Day RVA event benefiting Higher Achievement returns after two-year hiatus

Teams of five to nine people register to compete in field day events, including water balloon toss, relay races, capture the flag, corn hole, and tug of war, as well as enjoy prizes, music, beer, and food trucks.

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Field Day RVA, a community fundraising event for the nonprofit organization Higher Achievement, presented by BrownGreer, is set to take place on Saturday, May 14, 2022 at 11 a.m. The event took a two-year pause due to the pandemic and has returned to the Richmond community this year.

The day-long event takes place at the Bon Secours Training Center, formerly known as the Washington Redskins Training Camp, located at 2401 West Leigh Street. Teams of five to nine people register to compete in field day events, including water balloon toss, relay races, capture the flag, corn hole, and tug of war, as well as enjoy prizes, music, beer, and food trucks. Previous years have been in attendance by Mayor Levar Stoney, Dominion Energy, ABC News teams, and community members all throughout Richmond.

“We were disappointed when our 2020 and 2021 events had to be postponed, but could not be more thrilled to be back this year. Higher Achievement Richmond has profound impacts on the middle school scholars within Richmond, and this event is a great way to support our mission,” said Katey Comerford, Executive Director for Higher Achievement Richmond.

To attend Field Day RVA 2022, individuals can register at fielddayrva.eventbrite.com.

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HCPS students to get insight into Henrico’s government, school operations during 63rd annual Student Government Day

Henrico County high school students will get a firsthand look at their county government and school system operations when Student Government Day returns April 27-28 following a two-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Henrico County high school students will get a firsthand look at their county government and school system operations when Student Government Day returns April 27-28 following a two-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the 63rd Student Government Day, 93 students from Henrico’s nine public high schools, The Academy at Virginia Randolph and the Henrico Virtual Academy are scheduled to shadow elected and appointed officials – including members of the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, county manager, Henrico County Public Schools superintendent, constitutional officers and judges – to learn about their roles and responsibilities.

“Henrico County is thrilled to bring back Student Government Day after a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said. “This event allows many of our bright high school students to immerse themselves in the issues and decisions that impact our residents and businesses every day. It’s a proud tradition that highlights the tremendous partnership between our general government and Henrico County Public Schools.”

Student Government Day was first held in 1958 and was long supported by the Kiwanis clubs of North Richmond, Tuckahoe and Greater Richmond. This year’s event will begin with an investiture at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 in the auditorium of Hermitage High School, 8301 Hungary Spring Road. With the help of Henrico’s Circuit judges, 33 students will recite the oaths of office as if they were being sworn into their positions.

Students who are matched with general government officials will report to work at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, April 28. The day will include opportunities to learn how various departments function and will conclude with a simulated work session of the Board of Supervisors at 12:30 p.m. in the County Manager’s Conference Room and a simulated regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors at 2 p.m. in the Board Room of the Henrico Government Center, 4301 E. Parham Road.

In the meetings, students will have opportunities to discuss and debate local issues as if they were officially in the roles of elected and appointed officials.

The Board of Supervisors will take no official action as part of its participation in Student Government Day.

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