Virginia lawyers weigh in on legality of schools mandating COVID-19 vaccine

Albemarle County Public Schools kicked off Stage 4 Monday and welcomed high school students...
Albemarle County Public Schools kicked off Stage 4 Monday and welcomed high school students back to class for the first time in a year.(WVIR)
Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 8:25 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - As more adults get COVID-19 vaccinations, some are turning their attention to kids, and students. Many are wondering if public schools and universities will begin to issue new vaccination mandates.

Requiring certain vaccinations for students before they enter a classroom is not new, but the COVID-19 vaccine is.

As a follow-up to our story on Thursday, which discussed the legality of vaccine mandates in the workplace, we asked the same two lawyers if schools can require their students to get the shot.

The University of Virginia has not said whether it will mandate the shot, but other universities have. Attorney David Thomas of MichieHamlett says he believes it can be allowed.

“It’s a private contract between the college and the university and the student,” he said. “I can’t think of any reason they can’t make vaccination a condition of enrollment, or at the very least, a condition of in-person attendance.”

Another Charlottesville attorney, David Oberg of Jones Oberg & Green, thinks any legal challenges that arise will likely not disrupt the mandate.

“I think the government’s going to say, look, under these circumstances, this is necessary,” he said.

Right now, COVID-19 vaccines are only approved for people 16-and-older. Eventually, the goal is to have a shot for children, too. Once that happens, Thomas thinks K-12 public schools will be able to mandate the shot.

“I think it’s actually going to end up being the same as the university level where the school district, again subject to religious exemptions and things like that, can say if you want to attend classes in person, you have to be vaccinated.”

Thomas also says if a school district mandates the shot it would still need to offer a virtual option because of the constitutional requirement to educate everyone.

Oberg, who is a member of the Albemarle County School Board, offered a legal prediction.

“I think you would probably require a decision by the Department of Education, Department of Health to require vaccinations in any individual school system,” he said.

For now, COVID-19 vaccines for children are still in the clinical trial phase.

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