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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging UConn's Vaccine Policy

Jackson Mitchell

A federal judge on Monday sided with the University of Connecticut in a legal challenge against its coronavirus vaccine policy, upholding a requirement for students to get the shot or request an exemption before returning to campus.

Two students and the parent of an incoming freshman sued university trustees last month, arguing they failed to provide clear guidance around UConn’s coronavirus vaccination policy and applied it arbitrarily by excluding faculty and staff.

However, Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer dismissed the lawsuit Monday, finding the students lack standing to sue the school in federal court because they’re free to request exemptions from UConn’s vaccine requirement.

Meyer declined to grant a preliminary injunction that would have prevented the school from enforcing the vaccine policy before students return at the end of August.

The plaintiffs “raise important constitutional questions” on when the government can set conditions on public education but failed to show any risk of imminent harm created by UConn's policy, Meyer wrote.

“Two of the three plaintiffs have applied for and received exemptions from the UConn vaccination requirement,” he wrote. “Having received exemptions, their claims are moot because they are unlikely to face any continuing injury from the vaccination requirement.

“The third plaintiff has declined even to seek an exemption,” Meyer continued, referring to an incoming sophomore who is transferring into UConn’s Allied Health Science department and has yet to request a waiver from the school. “Having failed to avail herself of a simple process that may allow her to avoid the vaccination requirement, she has not suffered an injury that the law recognizes as the basis for a right to complain in federal court. Accordingly, the Constitution requires me to dismiss this action for lack of federal jurisdiction.”

Under the policy, students participating in any on-campus activities must be vaccinated or seek an exemption, which allows them to attend with heightened health and safety requirements, such as wearing masks and undergoing regular testing.

More than 90% of students have complied to date, though 771 asked to be exempt for nonmedical reasons, such as religious belief or personal discomfort with the vaccine, according to information disclosed by the university in court.

As of July 23, UConn’s dean of students had granted 504 nonmedical exemption requests. Decisions were pending in the remainder. An additional 55 students requested medical exemptions, which were also under review.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus vaccines in use in the United States are safe and effective, and serious problems among those who get vaccinated are rare. Nationwide, more than 351 million doses have been administered to date.

In an announcement Thursday, UConn said 94% of students who will be living on the Storrs campus have been vaccinated, and 97% have complied with its vaccine policy by either providing proof or requesting an exemption.

Copyright 2021 Connecticut Public Radio

Jim Haddadin