The University of Connecticut has granted more than 65% of 771 requests for non-medical exemptions to its student COVID vaccination requirement, according to a state motion to dismiss a recent federal court lawsuit.
Like many universities, UConn’s Board of Trustees voted in June to require students to be vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall semester but it allowed requests for both medical and non-medical exemptions.
According to a state motion filed last week asking a judge to dismiss a legal challenge, the university has granted exemptions to most of the students who have requested one. As of July 23, Eleanor Daugherty, UConn’s dean of students and vice president of student affairs, had granted 504 of the 771 requests for non-medical exemptions. The others remained pending. Meanwhile, 55 students had requested medical exemptions.
At the end of last month, almost 90% of UConn’s residential students had reported being vaccinated, Daugherty said in a court filing. A spokesperson for the university said that 9,104 of the 10,300 students who would be living on campus had been vaccinated as of last week and that number had increased as the result of a surge in vaccinations ahead of a July 31 deadline.
In documents filed last week, Assistant Attorney General Timothy Holzman argued that the three plaintiffs were in no position to sue the school’s board of trustees for violating their constitutional rights because there were exemptions available to the requirement they opposed. In fact, two of the three UConn students had been granted exemptions and the other had not applied for one, he said.
“These Plaintiffs, however, have invoked the exemption process provided by the Policy, obtained non-medical exemptions, and are thus able to attend UConn without getting vaccinated,” Holzman wrote. “Because they have not suffered—and will not suffer—the only alleged injury they complain of, they lack standing.”
According to UConn’s policy, students who receive an exemption may be expected to follow stricter safety protocols like COVID testing, quarantining, mask requirements, and housing restrictions.
In their lawsuit, the three plaintiffs have asked Judge Jeffrey Meyer to rule the requirement unconstitutional and bar the school from enforcing it.
“The defendant does not have authority under the laws of the State of Connecticut, the Connecticut Constitution, federal law or the United States Constitution, to mandate that its students be vaccinated with one of three unapproved vaccines,” attorney Ryan McLane wrote in the complaint.
In a separate filing, McLane has also asked the judge to take immediate action preventing the university from enforcing the requirement before students return to campus for the start of the fall semester at the end of this month. The state responded by asking him to let the policy stand.
“That policy is the culmination of an extensive deliberative process and is one tool among many that UConn has put in place to protect the health and safety of returning students and ensure that university life can continue in the face of the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic,” Mary Lenehan, assistant attorney general, wrote.
The lawsuit comes amidst spiking COVID infection rates in Connecticut and elsewhere as a result of the more infectious delta variant. Over the weekend, the state’s infection rate climbed to over 3% after remaining higher than 2% for the past week. The state Public Health Department has advised even vaccinated residents to resume wearing masks indoors while in public.
As of Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont was continuing to weigh COVID-19 policies for the state’s K-12 schools, where students will begin heading back into classrooms later this month.