Though the final decision hasn’t been made by the newly installed leadership at LSU, students returning to campus in a few weeks probably will have to wear masks in class and get tested to live on campus. But they likely won’t have to arrive vaccinated.
LSU President William Tate, who is just entering his fourth week as leader of the state’s flagship university, said Thursday he would review the recommendations made during a closed-door meeting with staff and faculty, then issue a directive next week. His memo will detail how the 30,000 or so students on the LSU A&M campus in Baton Rouge will have to act in light of a dramatic surge in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths among the unvaccinated in Louisiana, which includes about 71% of LSU’s students.
Worried about exposure and confused why the Louisiana Health Department allowed four private higher education institutions to mandate vaccinations, a number of LSU faculty members have been pressing Tate to require inoculation as prerequisite for coming to campus.
Tate said the university’s lawyers have studied the situation “and it has become clear that there are significant challenges for a public university.”
He also said “the football situation” is still being evaluated and that he is in conversations with officials at other Southeastern Conference schools, who also are dealing with high numbers of COVID infections along with similar legal and political parameters.
In the meantime, “take personal responsibility, follow the science, and get vaccinated. We will continue to make the vaccine freely available,” Tate told staff and faculty at what was billed as a town hall meeting. The meeting was not open to the public. Students and reporters who were able access the Zoom conference were disconnected upon discovery.
But for several weeks, LSU faculty have been very publicly challenging Tate over whether LSU really is prohibited from mandating vaccinations for its students. About 500 colleges and universities nationwide, including public schools is states like Illinois and Massachusetts, are requiring their students to be vaccinated
“I would say I’m less than satisfied with Tate‘s answers, although encouraged that he is appearing to be considering allowing us to do something other than fill classes to full capacity,” said Robert Mann, a professor in the Manship School of Journalism and one of the most vocal critics of the administration’s reactions to the pandemic.
LSU legal scholars have argued that state law appears to give individual institutions the ability to require immunizations.
“If the LSU Administration is simply paralyzed from making a responsible vaccination mandate decision without further delay, it then should make an immediate interim decision to mandate proof of vaccination to participate in any potential ‘super spreader’ events and activities,” wrote law Professors Michael J. Malinowski and Lawrence B. Sandoz Jr. in a widely distributed treatise.
State law clearly gives the health department the authority to enforce keeping most students from attending schools if they don’t take required vaccines to slow tetanus, meningitis, measles, mumps, rubella, and other maladies. In accordance with state law, students can get medical, personal, and religious immunization exemptions.
In June, the LSU Board of Supervisors asked the Louisiana Department of Health to add the COVID vaccines to its enforcement list once the U.S. Federal Drug Administration upgrades the vaccines from emergency use authorization to full clearance.
The LSU Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a resolution Friday asking the Louisiana Department of Health to add the COVID vaccines to the …
Tulane University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Loyola University New Orleans, and Dillard University – all four private schools based in New Orleans – are requiring their students to be vaccinated as a condition of enrollment.
Three of the schools asked the Office of Public Health for permission citing state law.
Spokesman Kevin Litten said the Louisiana Department of Health “would be happy to consider, provide guidance and likely approve any institution of higher education’s request to require the COVID-19 vaccines as we already have done for four other colleges and universities.”
But Dr. Joe Kanter, the State Health Officer, in responding to Xavier, Dillard and Loyola, stated: “This approval should not be interpreted as a legal opinion as to the legality of any action you are taking in this regard.”
“We have to take the due process clause into account in every single decision we make,” said Winston DeCuir Jr., LSU’s general counsel.
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly found that the government cannot infringe on an individual’s due process rights, a distinction that private institutions don’t have to worry about, he said. “Our colleagues in private schools are not bound by the 14th Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution). They can make decisions that restrict a student’s freedom without fear of litigation for violating the due process clause.”
DeCuir pointed out that Attorney General Jeff Landry, the state’s chief legal officer, has issued an opinion opposing mandatory vaccination and has hinted at a lawsuit should LSU or any other Louisiana public college or university take that step. Though Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed anti-vaccination measures, the Legislature still passed them overwhelmingly, indicating where the state’s Republican-majority lawmakers stand on the issue.
“Right now, given all those things, we just don’t see that as a viable option,” DeCuir said of mandatory vaccination.
LSU’s fall semester starts in about four weeks on Aug. 23. Even if vaccines were mandated, mandate vaccines, currently unvaccinated students wouldn’t have full protection by the time classes start. On-campus students move in on Aug. 6.
Recommendations staff faculty made to LSU administrators
- Masks and face coverings should be universally required indoors, including in all classrooms, as well as on campus transportation.
- All on-campus residents should be required to get entry tested for COVID-19 prior to arriving on campus. Testing will also be required in residence halls when wastewater shows a high detection of the virus.
- Physical distancing is strongly encouraged where masks are not currently required. This includes continuation of signage at entries and exits of classroom and buildings to discourage congregating in these spaces.
- Because LSU is not able to mandate vaccinations due to state law, we must continue to strongly encourage all students to get vaccinated prior to arriving on campus. Those who have been vaccinated should self-report through the vaccination survey.
- Appropriate quarantine and isolation protocols should be in place.
- All classes should be recorded and available for students who may miss class due to COVID-19 related issues. This is to discourage ill individuals from coming to class.
- All classrooms should have additional HEPA filtration installed prior to commencement of the semester (in process).
- Continue to utilize the Daily Symptom Checker as a way of flagging potentially symptomatic individuals and providing testing direction.