School Report Card: Rutgers will require student COVID vaccine for fall, high school shifts to remote learning for nearly 4 weeks

Korin Miller
·9-min read

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Rutgers University is requiring in-person students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the fall semester

Officials from New Jersey's Rutgers University announced Thursday that all students will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending in-person classes in the fall. This is believed to be the first major university in the United States that has made this requirement of students.

"Assurances from the federal government that vaccines will be available for all Americans by the end of May and assessments by public health experts prompted university leaders to adjust the vaccine requirements for the fall semester," the announcement reads.

Rutgers president Jonathan Holloway said in a statement that the school's administration is "committed to health and safety for all members of our community, and adding COVID-19 vaccination to our student immunization requirements will help provide a safer and more robust college experience for our students."

Students may request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons, Rutgers says. Students enrolled in fully remote online degree programs and those doing online-only continuing education programs will not be required to be vaccinated. Faculty and staff are also "strongly encouraged" to receive the vaccine, the school says. When reached for comment, a Rutgers spokesperson referred Yahoo Life to the official announcement.

Rutgers says it has gotten approval from the state of New Jersey to administer vaccines on campus to faculty, staff and students once vaccine supplies are available. But the school urges those groups to not wait to sign up for vaccines at a Rutgers site.

On Friday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced he was expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to people ages 55 and older on April 5. The state, which leads the nation in the highest number of new COVID-19 infections, has 3,469 new confirmed cases and 38 deaths, according to Thursday data from the New Jersey Department of Health.

Experts agree that vaccination of students is important, but it's easier said than done. "Colleges and universities should do everything to encourage as high of vaccine uptake in their population as possible," infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. But, he says, it's potentially tricky. "It will be very hard to enforce vaccination as a condition of attendance until the vaccines are fully FDA-approved rather than only available on an emergency-use authorization."

It's possible other schools will adopt similar policies, Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease specialist and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life. Still, he says, the logistics of young people having access to the vaccine is a "problem"— for now, at least. "Hopefully, it won't be a problem by the summer," Watkins says.

New Jersey elementary school vice principal is placed on leave after a COVID outbreak

The vice principal at Ella G. Clarke Elementary School in Lakewood, N.J., was put on administrative leave with pay starting March 17 after eight staff members and a student contracted COVID-19 from an outbreak at the school the week of Feb. 8. Two classrooms and their related staff quarantined as a result of the outbreak. The district is still investigating how the virus spread in school.

Four staffers were hospitalized in the outbreak — and all are now out, Michael Inzelbuch, the school board's attorney and district spokesman, tells Yahoo Life.

Ella G. Clarke Elementary School is part of New Jersey's Lakewood Public Schools, which has provided in-person classes for students since the fall. A source tells Yahoo Life that the vice principal is being investigated for allegedly not reporting information about cases to contact tracers and senior district administrators.

Inzelbuch says the problem is more about adherence to regulations put in place. "Most of our cases of COVID-19 have occurred outside of school, but that doesn't mean anything because people come to school," he says. "Therefore, when a teacher goes to a dinner party — which they have every right to do — there are certain responsibilities that come with it. If someone there had COVID, we need to know."

Inzelbuch says that the administrative leave has now been extended until the end of April "since we are still receiving information from the vice principal and her attorney that should have been made available previously. It confirms our worse fears and strongly appears that COVID tracing protocols were not adhered to at the building level."

Inzelbuch says he can't speak about details of the leave but adds that "further action may occur," depending on what the investigation finds. "This is not about bad and good," he says. "We are entrusted with the lives of tens of thousands of students and staff every day. That's important."

Transparency is important for preventing the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life. "If we're not transparent about individuals that are infected, we won't be able to do contact tracing and follow up with individuals who are at risk," he says. "People have different motivations for not being transparent. It's easy to understand why, but at the end of the day, lack of transparency increases the risk for further transmission."

Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., agrees. "COVID-19 is still around, and it can still spread," she says. "We have to show complete transparency in our school districts so that we can prevent the spread as much a possible."

Dozens of high school students in the Dallas area contracted COVID-19 after attending a dinner and dance

The Dallas County Health and Human Services reported that 41 high school students contracted COVID-19 after attending a dance and dinner on March 13.

Details about the outbreak are scarce, including how those who were infected are currently doing, but a spokesperson for the health department tells Yahoo Life that "there are now over 50 cases associated with the dance and dinner." According to reports, the students attend Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas.

Trinity Christian Academy headmaster Dave Delph tells Yahoo Life that the school's recent cases are likely due to more than the dinner and dance. "Contact tracing shows that the recent cases likely stem from travel during spring break, an off-campus dance and other activities in homes," he says. "Our TCA community has been notified about positive cases."

Students who tested positive are isolating at home, and their close contacts are quarantining, Delph says, adding that the school is taking "extra precautions" by switching to remote learning for some Upper School grades. They have also canceled extra-curricular activities for some Upper School students.

Dallas County Health and Human Services reported 296 new cases of COVID-19 in the county on Thursday.

Fisher says this is a good reminder that these kinds of things can still happen. "We are still in a pandemic," she says. "When we are inside and doing things like eating and drinking, we are more likely to spread COVID-19."

Russo warns that there's "still a moderate amount of disease in many communities. That increases the likelihood that someone might be infectious." He urges people to be patient. "We need to get more people vaccinated before we're able to get lax with these public health measures," he says.

Parents and teachers in Philadelphia create their own COVID-19 school tracker

Families and school staff affiliated with the School District of Philadelphia have launched their own COVID-19 school tracker in the absence of one provided by the district.

The tracker, which is hosted on Infogram, is a collaboration between Parents United for Public Education and the Caucus of Working Educators. It specifically shows how many positive COVID-19 tests are reported in schools on a weekly basis.

Teacher Laura Bonanni prepares her kindergarten classroom for planned in-person learning at Nebinger Elementary School in Philadelphia. (AP/Matt Rourke, File)
Teacher Laura Bonanni prepares her kindergarten classroom for planned in-person learning at Nebinger Elementary School in Philadelphia. (AP/Matt Rourke, File)

The tracker explicitly says that it is "not affiliated with the School District of Philadelphia" and includes this message at the bottom: "SDP has elected not to publicly share COVID testing data with the public, unlike many other districts and schools (including local charter schools). This is a crowdsourced substitute." Yahoo Life's request for comment was not returned.

Philadelphia Public Health reported 456 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

Russo says this information is important for the public to know. "We'd like to know if there's ongoing transmission in schools or any venue," he says. "That potentially puts students, staff, teachers and all of their families at risk."

Fisher calls the move "phenomenal" and "fabulous," adding, "I wish we had that in Los Angeles." This kind of information, she says, "will help everybody prevent outbreaks."

A Michigan high school is going remote for nearly 4 weeks after an outbreak but continuing with winter sports

Eisenhower High School in Shelby Charter Township, Mich., shifted to remote learning this week after a school outbreak put 400 students in quarantine.

In a statement to families, interim superintendent Robert Monroe and principal Jared McEvoy said that students will follow a remote learning schedule from March 23 through April 19, noting that this was an "extremely difficult action" for the school to take. "We need to take this step now to pause in-person instruction to reduce any further spread in our community," the statement reads.

Spring sports tryouts will be "paused" until further notice, but students who are participating in winter post-season competitions will be allowed to continue them under guidelines from the state of Michigan, including undergoing COVID-19 testing. Yahoo Life's request to the school for comment was not returned.

"Our ability to return to — and remain in — full day in-person instruction depends on all of us," the statement says. "It is critical that all of us take the necessary steps to mitigate the spread in our community."

The state of Michigan reported 243 new COVID-19 cases on Thurdsay.

Russo calls the statement "a bit of a mixed message," pointing out that testing is "imperfect."

"Education is a priority, and extracurricular activities are important too," he says. "But if you move the school to remote learning and allow some sports ... that doesn't make sense to me."

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