Bennington College

The entrance to Bennington College in Bennington.

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BENNINGTON — Bennington College has joined the ranks of some 70 U.S. colleges requiring students to get the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus in the fall, but has not yet made a decision about issuing a similar requirement for staff and faculty.

In a letter addressed to students, families, faculty and staff last week, Bennington president Laura Walker explained that the decision had been made “to ensure the health of the community and to provide a safe environment for learning and living.”

Walker said that the administration is committed to working with students who are unable to get vaccinated before the fall, and with those who have qualifying exemptions, such as medical and religious reasons. She promised more details in the coming months.

“The benefits of vaccination are many: reduction or prevention of serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19,” Walker said in the letter. “Broad immunization is critical to controlling the spread of the virus and to protecting our community. A safer Bennington College community supports a safer Vermont for our families and our neighbors.”

She said the college is strongly encouraging staff and faculty to be vaccinated, although no decision has yet been made about making that recommendation a requirement.

As of Monday, all Vermonters who are 16 and older are eligible to make a vaccination appointment. Beginning Thursday, all part-time Vermont residents, including out-of-state college students, can make appointments.

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According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 69 U.S. colleges and universities, including Rutgers, Brown, Cornell and Northeastern, have so far adopted similar student vaccination policies. Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Mass., were not included on that list as of Friday afternoon.

Some colleges are leaving the decision to students, and others believe they can’t legally require vaccinations.

Colleges that are requiring shots believe they’re on solid legal ground, as colleges have routinely required students to be vaccinated against other diseases, such as the flu. But some legal scholars say that the COVID-19 vaccines’ emergency use status puts the issue into a gray area, and might lead to court challenges.

Bennington College currently has one active COVID-19 case, an employee who has been working remotely. To date, 16,956 COVID-19 tests have been conducted on campus, and 19 people have had the illness and recovered.

Editor's note: Williams College announced late Friday afternoon that it will require returning students to be vaccinated.

David LaChance can be reached at dlachance@benningtonbanner.com.


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