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University of Mississippi: Students not required to be vaccinated for fall semester

As schools and universities begin making preparations for the upcoming year, questions still linger regarding COVID-19 vaccinations and any restrictions that might stay in place.

The Oxford and Lafayette County School Districts are still discussing their return to learning plans, but the University of Mississippi has already announced its plan for the fall semester.

Ole Miss sent an email to its campus community on June 24 stating that students will not be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend classes in person at its Oxford campus and any of its other locations. The decision was made by the Institutions of Higher Learning to not require students at any of its eight universities to receive the vaccination.

In May, Ole Miss announced that anyone who is fully vaccinated are not required to wear a mask or practice social distancing on campus. The Student Health Center is currently offering the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine without an appointment needed until August 5.

“Even among those who are vaccinated, we need to continue to monitor our personal health and be mindful of how our actions may impact others,” said Dr. Charlotte Fant Pegues, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, in the email.

At the public school level, school districts were required to post their return plans on their websites, but both Oxford and Lafayette County schools are waiting for further guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before making final decisions for the 2021-22 school year.

During the OSD Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, Superintendent Bradley Roberson spoke on the Returning to Learning Plan and stated the district’s intention was for “everyone to be back in school.”

If a virtual option is offered by school districts, there will be strict policies from the State Board of Education that districts will have to adhere to. The Mississippi High School Activities Association stated that in student-athletes who choose the virtual format will be classified as a home school student and not allowed to compete in athletic events and other extracurricular activities.

Masks will likely not be required at Oxford campuses, according to Roberson. One thing that the district was waiting to hear more guidance on was how to handle any positive cases and subsequent contact tracing among students and teachers.

“The only cliffhanger now is how quarantines will be handled,” Roberson said. “There’s been some talk about loosening those guidelines based on the ability to test quickly and individuals being asymptomatic.”

Oxford intends to discuss its Returning to Learning Plan this month ahead of the July board meeting. Lafayette County School District is also in a wait-and-see mode as leaders continue to discuss their plans.

New Lafayette Schools Superintendent Jay Foster said he is waiting to see what that guidance is offered and what surrounding school districts are doing.

“We have a plan in place that was for last year, but we’re just going to modify that and adjust it according to CDC guidelines and also according to what Oxford does and what surrounding districts do,” Foster said. “I guess, in our mind, we’re trying to see what everyone else does before we put our plan, ‘Here’s for sure what we’re doing.’ … The overall mentality is we’re going to do our best to have school as normal and get back to in-person school as quickly as possible.”