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Arizona executive order bans universities from requiring students to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 12:12 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 21:35:31-04

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order on Tuesday mandating that public colleges and universities cannot require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or require students to submit proof that they received the vaccine to attend in-person classes.

Ducey's executive order also mandated that students cannot be required to get a COVID-19 test or be required to wear a mask in order to be on campus.

Exemptions are given for those students working inside hospitals, clinics, group homes, and other healthcare facilities, that may require students or staff to show proof that they have been vaccinated.

A college or university can only require a COVID-19 test in the event of a "significant COVID-19 outbreak in a shared student housing setting that poses a risk to the students or staff," a move that would require prior approval from the Arizona Department of Health Services, according to the executive order.

“The vaccine works, and we encourage Arizonans to take it. But it is a choice and we need to keep it that way,” said Gov. Ducey said in a statement. “Public education is a public right, and taxpayers are paying for it. We need to make our public universities available for students to return to learning. They have already missed out on too much learning."

Gov. Ducey's action appears to be in response to Arizona State University's updated policy that all students are expected -- though not required -- to have the COVID-19 vaccine prior to the start of the fall semester. Students were also expected to upload proof of their vaccination to the University's online health portal.

The policy would also require students who were not vaccinated to submit a daily health check, to get a COVID-19 test twice a week, and to wear a mask in both indoor and outdoor spaces on campus.

Vaccinated students would not have to abide by those rules, according to ASU's policy.

Prior to the Governor's announcement, ASU President Michael Crow spoke to KTAR News 92.3 FM’s "The Mike Broomhead Show" and said the University's policies were being misinterpreted, was in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for colleges, universities, and higher learning, and could change as the CDC's guidance changes.

"We’re going to be bringing in students from all fifty states, we’re going to be bringing in students from 130 countries all gathered at one point, at one time, in one place," Crow said during the KTAR interview.

"We’re working hard to not become a new source for the spread of the virus and any of its new variants that are still occurring," Crow said.

ASU released a statement Tuesday in response to Ducey's new executive order:

Arizona State University will comply with Gov. Ducey’s Executive Order issued today and will communicate changes in protocols to the university community.

ASU has worked closely with federal, state and local officials to align and work together with regard to public health and safety standards involving COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic in January of 2020.

Along the way, we have rigorously followed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to manage and minimize the spread of the virus while simultaneously remaining open to our students and the public and conducting as many in-person classes as public health protocols allow. We have also been a key partner to the state in inventing and providing mass testing and vaccine operations for the public, providing testing and management strategies to K-12 schools to get teachers and students back in the classroom, conducting scientific testing on the virus itself, and helping the state return to pre-pandemic operations.

We announced in February that we would return to full in-person operations for the fall semester. Since the vaccine hit the market, we have communicated an expectation that students and employees get the vaccine, but it has never been a requirement.

As we bring all students and employees back together this fall for full in-person operations, we continued to follow the guidance of the CDC specific to universities and colleges and as it relates to having a campus that is a mix of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. The CDC recognizes the unique environments of Institutions of Higher Learning; the ASU student population includes people from all 50 states and more than 130 countries.

This week, we informed our student population of what to expect when they return to campus for the fall semester. We did not communicate a vaccine mandate. We reiterated our message that we expect students to get vaccinated given the health benefits, but also offered students a choice in the matter. And, we communicated a continuation of existing health protocols for students who are not yet vaccinated as they are at higher risk for infection and spreading the virus.

While an executive order is a temporary measure, Gov. Ducey vowed to work with state Rep. TJ Shope to make it law.

Gov. Ducey's executive order appears to only apply to the COVID-19 vaccine.

ASU, Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona, and Grand Canyon University all require students to be immunized from MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella).