(The Center Square) – More than 300,000 full-time students and 60,000 faculty and staff are returning to Florida’s 12 public universities for fall semester over the next week as “normal, pre-pandemic operations” resume with in-person classes and campus events proceeding without mask mandates or vaccine requirements.
The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the 12 public universities, has issued guidance that “strongly recommends” students, facility and staff be fully vaccinated and wear masks indoors regardless of vaccine status and encourages campus officials to administer regular COVID testing, but will comply with a newly adopted state law that prohibits mask mandates.
The campus guidance applies to athletic events, including football games attended across the state by hundreds of thousands of people.
When the University of Florida hosts Boise State on Sept. 2, masks will not be required in 45,000-seat 3G Stadium in Orlando, nor for when Florida Atlantic University kicks off its season Sept. 4 in 88,500-seat Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville against the University of Florida.
On July 23, the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) issued guidance for higher education institutions that allows campus officials to do away with last school year’s mask and physical distancing requirements if all students, faculty, and staff “are fully vaccinated prior to the start of the semester.”
Students “can return to full capacity in-person learning” if everyone is fully vaccinated prior to the beginning of the semester, according to CDC’s recommendations.
But in “areas of substantial to high transmission” of COVID-19, such as Florida, the CDC recommends people should wear masks and practice social distancing indoors on college campuses.
In policy statements from individual Florida universities, the common refrain is students, faculty and staff are “expected” to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors even if they’ve received the vaccine.
The University of Florida, which has 50,000 students, has issued several conflicting statements in recent days about its campus policy.
In July, UF said “fully immunized adults need not wear masks.” On Aug. 11, in an email encouraging students to get vaccinated, the school said it “cannot modify the operation of the entire university for a minority of people who may choose not to be vaccinated.”
On Friday, a campus announcement said, “We expect everyone to wear a mask at all times when inside any UF facility, even if you are vaccinated,” citing “large numbers of people who are unvaccinated” and indicated the university was considering moving to online learning for the first three weeks of classes.
Hours later, UF President Kent Fuchs in a late-night statement said in-person instruction would resume as planned when classes begin Aug. 23.
The schools also don’t require vaccinations although, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 730 public and private colleges/universities nationwide have imposed the requirement this fall – and can do so legally after the U.S. Supreme Court last week upheld Indiana University’ vaccine requirement for students.
Four Florida private schools require vaccinations: the University of Miami (employees only); Jacksonville University (employees only); Nova Southeastern University (employees only), and Johnson & Wales University-North Miami, (employees and all students). Two for-profit Florida schools, Chamberlain University at Jacksonville and Miramar, also require employees and all students to be vaccinated.
Florida A&M University in Tallahassee – a public Historically Black College/University (HBCU) – is requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests for students to live in dormitories or other campus housing.
The requirement does not run afoul of Senate Bill 2006, which bans businesses and schools from requiring proof of vaccinations, according to the Governor’s Office, because the school is allowing residents to opt-out of vaccines by agreeing to be tested.