Brevard College is the only higher education institution in the Asheville area that will require the COVID-19 vaccination for all staff and students this fall.
With a fully vaccinated on-campus population, the liberal arts school with a student body of about 700 will no longer require masks or social distancing during the fall semester.
“We decided to require the vaccine because we wanted to be able to provide our students with the experience that sold them on Brevard to begin with, and that’s an in-person, without masks, without social distancing experience,” said Debbie D’Anna, Brevard College vice president for student success and dean of students. “The only way to ensure that we are able to do that is to require vaccines.”
All Brevard students, faculty and staff must provide proof of vaccination by Aug. 15. The college is accepting valid medical and religious exemptions, D’Anna said.
Following the school’s vaccine mandate announcement just before the end of the spring semester, D’Anna said administration has received mostly positive feedback about the decision.
“We still feel that if you choose to be a part of our community at Brevard College that it’s part of being a servant leader to do what we can to keep each other safe,” she said. “We feel the vaccine is one way to do that.”
Brevard is one of eight North Carolina colleges and universities mandating the vaccine, according to education news source University Business. Others include Johnson C. Smith University, Lees-McRae College, Livingstone College, Shaw University and Union Presbyterian Seminary-Charlotte. Duke and Wake Forest universities are the largest schools requiring the shot.
Some local schools are still undecided about next year’s COVID-19 protocols. Mars Hill University Director of Communications Mike Thornhill said the school hasn’t made final decisions about a vaccine mandate or other safety measures. Mars Hill will release its guidelines for next year within a few weeks, he said.
But other Asheville post-secondary schools have released tentative plans to return to pre-pandemic practices, such as in-person instruction without masks, but are not requiring the vaccine.
Western Carolina University in Cullowhee plans to return to normal in the fall, according to a March 11 announcement. WCU will increase in-person classes, sports and campus events. All buildings, including residence halls, will return to full capacity and normal operating hours, the release said.
A-B Tech President John D. Gossett, however, “strongly encouraged” everyone to get vaccinated in a May 25 statement announcing the community college would return to normal operations in August if “COVID-19 impacts remain low.”
“We know our students are ready to return to campus and in-person instruction,” Gossett said. “The conservative, cautious approach we took this year paid off, and we are hopeful that most people are now vaccinated. We’ll continue to put the safety of students and employees first, but it’s time for us to return to campus.”
Beginning June 1, A-B Tech students and staff can ditch their masks, but social distancing and sanitation of facilities will still be in place. Additionally, A-B Tech will offer more online and hybrid classes for students who want to continue virtual learning, Gossett said.
UNC Asheville will not require COVID-19 vaccines for its 3,600 students.
UNCA follows the guidelines set for the entire UNC system, spokesperson Sarah Broberg said.
“We strongly encourage all UNC Asheville faculty, staff and students to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said. “Per the guidance of the UNC System, the vaccine is not mandatory.”
Citing legal and health guidance and conversations with communities, UNC System President Peter Hans announced April 29 that none of the 17 system institutions will require the vaccine.
“Public health officials across the country are working toward full vaccination by lowering barriers to access, creating incentives, and persuading hesitant community members. In the absence of clear legal authority for a mandate, the UNC System will follow a similar approach,” Hans said.
The UNC System will require students to be tested or provide proof of vaccination for reentry into school. Further, the system likely will continue the same COVID-19 protocols as last year — requiring masks indoors, maintaining social distancing and following quarantine protocols — Hans said.
Protocols ultimately will be determined by COVID-19’s status in the state and individual locales, Broberg said.
“We remain hopeful as we continue to plan for a more typical Fall Semester,” she said.
Shelby Harris is a reporter covering education and other topics. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_shelbyharris.