VCU implements stricter punishments for vaccine mandate noncompliance


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Commonwealth University announced Friday that students could face a full withdrawal from classes and staff could face termination for not complying with the vaccine mandate.

Students were told on June 7 that they would have until July 15 to fulfill the university’s vaccine requirement. The university announced on Aug. 9 that faculty and staff would have until Sept. 15 to either provide proof of vaccination or an exemption.

The fall semester started in August and at the start, there were almost 1,500 students who had not reported their vaccine status or sought an exemption yet. Those students had holds placed on their school accounts until they provided proof of vaccination but a group of VCU professors did not feel that was enough enforcement.

VCU’s American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter sent a letter calling on school leadership to crack down on the students seemingly ignoring the school’s vaccine mandate.

Following the letter, VCU indicated they were considering harsher punishments which were officially announced in a release on Friday.

The students who have not gotten an exemption from the mandate or submitted vaccination records will continue to have a hold on their account and will be required to participate in COVID-19 surveillance testing.

If a student fails to report to testing twice they will face a full administrative withdrawal from their fall classes. The first time they miss testing they will be issued a warning.

As for faculty and staff who do not get the vaccine or exemption, they could be fired.

Employees who have either not reported their vaccination status or received an exemption for religious or medical reasons, will have until Sept. 15 before they are required to regularly test for COVID-19.

Any employee who has not gotten their vaccine or an exemption by Oct. 1 could be fired.

If an employee who is subject to regular testing misses two tests they will be put on unpaid leave for 30 days or until they take a COVID-19 test. If someone misses three tests or remains on leave for over 30 days they could be fired.

Anyone who also works with the VCU health system is also responsible for knowing and meeting their requirements.

Students who spoke to 8News after hearing the details of the disciplinary actions Friday said that they had mixed emotions.

“If the school’s asking people to just get tested once a week, if that’s their requirement for coming to school unvaccinated, I think it’s a reasonable request,” Elsie D’Agostino said. “You want to study, you want to learn, and you want to do your job or teach, then I think just take the tests and continue your life as normal as possible.”

Fiorenza Lopriesti said that she understands there are exemptions available for medical and religious reasons. However, she told 8News that those who are able to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should do so for the safety of themselves and those around them.

“If you don’t have a reason why you can’t get it at the moment or whatever, then I feel like it’s a good way to enforce it for now because the new Delta variant is spreading rapidly around, and there’s other variants that I’ve heard were going around,” she said. “I think it’s the best call that VCU made just because we’re trying to keep everyone safe and trying to make everyone continue their education.”

But other students told 8News that they feel safe at VCU without the enforcement of the university’s COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandate because of additional health protocols in place.

“Everybody’s wearing a mask, so as long as that happens, I feel alright,” Austin Gopauo said. “We’re all still following protocols. So even if something were to happen, we’re all still being safe and doing things to prevent from other things happening and catching COVID.”

Currently 97.4% of students and 89% of employees have met the vaccine or exemption requirements, according to the university’s vaccination dashboard.

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