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ASU President Michael Crow wants protection against COVID-19 lawsuits when students return

Posted at 9:56 PM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 01:32:37-04

Universities across the country are struggling to come up with the best course of action on how to allow students to return to campus and in-person classes.

Both Arizona State University and University of Arizona are discussing whether it's a feasible option for this fall.

"My priority is to graduate in four years,” said upcoming ASU Senior Nicole Morote. "So, if they reopen and I have to be there in person, I am prepared to do that, but I’m very hesitant."

Morote worries students won't follow CDC guidelines when returning to campus and little will be done to enforce recommendations.

"My fear is that we will go back to campus, and the priority won’t always be student safety with the understanding that if something happens and a student gets sick that the university won’t be held responsible for being reckless.”

Earlier this month, thirteen university presidents from across the nation asked Vice President Mike Pence that schools to be held accountable. Some universities asked for federal protection from lawsuits if students contract COVID-19 if in-person classes resume.

"I can confirm that President Crow participated in a call with Vice President Pence," said ASU spokesperson Katie Paquet. "He was honored to be invited."

Paquet added Crow provided an overview of how ASU was managing through COVID-19, and advocated for clear CDC guidelines for universities that would factor in on-campus activity. ASU says Crow also discussed the possibility of having to implement regular testing protocols on campus and needing access to materials in order to be able to do so.

Paquet said Crow did not discuss potential university liability directly on the call with Vice President Pence, but added: "President Crow does believe that there should be a safe harbor for schools that have acted in good faith to fulfill their educational mission while following the guidance of public health officials regarding appropriate health and safety precautions for their students, faculty and staff."

“It seems like we’re treating it as an inevitability that students will get sick," said Morote. "I understand why certain legal protections would be sought out. At the same time, I think my fear would be reason not to offer students the reasonable protections that we deserve.”

Students like Morote say right now, they're not sure if they have any other options. For some with larger, more common majors a majority of their courses are available online, but others don't have the luxury of choosing what they're most comfortable with.

"Knowing the course requirements that I am missing, I don’t know that I could fulfill them all based on what’s online right now" added Morote. "I hope that they make more online classes accessible because right now as it stands I think I would have to enroll in bits of in-person and online classes to be able to graduate in the four years and meet my scholarship requirements.”

University of Arizona leaders discussed their plan of action at a task force meeting Wednesday.

Their recommendations included limiting the amount of students living in dorms, requiring masks be worn inside buildings (unless a private office or dorm), providing both COVID-19 tests and antibody tests to students, implementing a wellness check program, and launching a contact-tracing system that can alert students who came into close contact with someone who was infected using Bluetooth and GPS locations.

"We cannot make this risk-free," said University of Arizona President Robert Robbins. "So, we want to do everything we can to mitigate all the risks that we will inevitably face."