After over a year of full distance learning, Menlo College plans to have its 800 students return for in-person instruction this fall. The private four-year Atherton college is following the lead of other universities nationwide by requiring its students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to stepping back on campus.
Menlo College students will need to submit proof of vaccination two weeks before they start classes on Aug. 23, school officials told students via email on Wednesday, April 21. As the pandemic continues, different degrees of social distancing, mask-wearing and testing protocols might be needed during the fall, the email states.
"It's what will allow us to provide the type of student experience we offered in the past safely," said Angela Schmiede, vice president for student success and chair of the pandemic planning team at Menlo College.
California public university officials and Stanford University joined Menlo College in making vaccines mandatory when they announced on Thursday, April 22, they intend to require students, faculty, academic appointees and staff to be immunized in order to return to campus this fall.
Menlo College also plans to resume sports competitions and other on campus activities, which were put on hold during the pandemic. These plans are subject to change depending on the trajectory of the virus, Schmiede said.
"The college will continue to make evidence-based decisions, and together we will adapt nimbly as circumstances change," officials said in the email. "We all know the past several months have been hard. Throughout, many of us have looked to the fall 2021 semester as a beacon of light — the time when our entire community might safely come together in person again. With the arrival of effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we can now make that hope real."
It's "murky" legal water when it comes requiring employees to be vaccinated, Schmiede explained.
"At this point we're strongly encouraging faculty and staff to get vaccinated," she said. "We may require it if the law allows; once there is a switch to more formal approvals (of the vaccine, which is being administered via an emergency authorization by the FDA)."
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance in December suggesting that employers can make it mandatory for employees to be receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Colleges have the legal authority to require proof of vaccination for students -- they already require that students be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, meningitis, and other vaccine-preventable diseases -- but the emergency use authorization status of the COVID-19 vaccines "raises a wrinkle," Joanne Rosen, an associate lecturer in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Inside Higher Ed.
Few cases on campus
About 250 students are currently living in dorms on campus in residence hall pods and 100 come onto campus for athletic training, Schmiede said. Some students living on campus needed emergency housing, such as those who didn't have a safe or productive place to engage in online learning, and international students who would face difficult time differences if they did distance learning in their home countries, she said.
Just two cases have been reported on campus since Jan. 9, Schmiede said. She credits twice-a-week rapid COVID-19 tests and quarantining that's required of students before they can move into the dorms for the college's low infection rate.
Although the goal for the fall is to have all instruction be in person, some students awaiting visas in their home countries or students with medical conditions that don't allow for them to be vaccinated may be offered online courses, Schmiede said. Menlo College will only grant medical exemptions and not religious or philosophical vaccine exemptions, according to the email.
The school received a $2.7 million Paycheck Protection Program loan in April, according to Propublica. Menlo College employs 185 people, according to the loan. In January, the school received $802,478 through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to the school's website.