SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- More colleges and universities are deciding to require students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 when they arrive on campus in the fall. Brown University in Rhode Island, Rutgers in New Jersey, and closer to home, Northeastern in Boston are just a few.
In western Massachusetts, decisions are still being finalized.
“It’s been a roller coaster, kind of just like waiting for the next announcement,” said Janelise Rodriguez, an occupational therapy student at American International College.
COVID-19 has forced a lot of students to learn through a screen for nearly a year. Students like Rodriguez have had enough.
“That really puts a damper on the school year in general,” Rodriguez added.
Many schools are planning a return to in-person learning for the upcoming academic year. UMass Amherst is boasting plans to return to a more recognizable way of learning. School officials posted on their website "...that means an emphasis on face-to-face instruction, full residence halls, and a complement of student events and activities."
However, does it also mean an emphasis on having a student body fully vaccinated against COVID-19?
“It’s definitely personal preference, but as a health science student, I definitely support the vaccine and we are in congregated areas,” Rodriguez noted.
Western Mass News reached out to several college campuses in the region.
UMass Amherst, Smith College, Amherst College, Elms College, and American International College are all still determining their vaccine policies, but don't currently have a requirement for students to get the COVID-19 shot.
Meantime, Northeastern University in Boston made the decision to require their students get vaccinated and said on their website, in part, “they will be expected to arrive on campus in September fully vaccinated, unless they have a medical or religious exemption."
Attorney Jared Olanoff said, “They have been doing this for decades in terms of requiring vaccines.”
Olanoff said just like workplaces, colleges can require students to get a vaccine whether they're public or private institutions. Like Northeastern's policy outlines, he said school officials have to offer exemptions for people with medical conditions or sincere religious beliefs that prevent them from getting the shot.
“What they can’t do is make a rule that is illegal and there’s nothing illegal about saying that students have to get the vaccine before they come back on campus,” Olanoff added.
Now, a lot of vaccines that somebody might need for school like measles or meningitis are given out in a doctor's office where that sort of recordkeeping is a lot more meticulous. Olanoff is putting colleges on notice that documentation for the COVID-19 vaccine could be much more easily faked.
“It’s a piece of paper. It is not an official document,” Olanoff explained.
However, he warned students that getting caught with fake records could violate their school's policies
“That could result in suspension or expulsion for any kind of lying,” Olanoff added.
It's a debate that has cropped up in different settings during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for students like Rodriguez, getting the shot means the chance to continue learning once more uninterrupted.
“I think that vaccine would ensure that we're safe and that we don’t have to close down again,” Rodriguez said.