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NCAA Among 29 Higher Ed Groups Calling For Repeal Of 'Dangerous' Bans On Public Health Measures

Chris Polansky
Aug. 16, 2020, file photo of Gov. Kevin Stitt addressing reporters on the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences campus in Tulsa.

A group of 29 higher education organizations issued a statement calling for a reversal of state-level policies in places like Oklahoma that legally restrict how colleges and universities can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Some states forbid inquiries about an array of vaccinations, including COVID-19; ban vaccination requirements; block required COVID-19 surveillance testing; and restrict the use of evidence-based mitigation strategies, including masking," reads the letter, released jointly on Aug. 2 by the American College Health Association and the American Council on Education. "Many of these restrictions directly contradict CDC guidance. State actions that prevent the use of established and effective public health tools at the same time as COVID-19 cases increase is a recipe for disaster."

"These restrictions undermine the ability of all organizations, including colleges and universities, to operate safely and fully at a time of tremendous unpredictability. Furthermore, these restrictions prohibit higher education institutions from taking responsible and reasonable public health measures and ultimately threaten the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and neighboring communities," the letter continues.

The letter's signatories include the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

Anita Barkin, co-chair of the ACHA COVID-19 task force, said she hoped the statement would spur change.

"Certainly we want to go on record in expressing our concern over these restrictions, but we not only want to go on record saying this is a bad idea and could lead to disastrous consequences, we obviously want action taken," Barkin said. "We would like the restrictions removed."

"There's no political agenda here for us. This is a public health agenda that we are advocating. It's based in science, it is based on strong data that is coming out every day related to the Delta variant, and so I would think that governors and state legislators would have a vested interest in the success of colleges and universities within their state in being able to conduct business in a safe and successful way," Barkin said.

Steven Bloom, assistant vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education, agreed.

"We're concerned that governors or elected officials in their states would handcuff us in the way in which we could respond to this crisis," Bloom said.

"All we're saying in the statement and all we're saying generally is, let schools use the tools that are available to them based on their judgment, based on what they think is right," Bloom said. 

Asked for comment on the letter, a spokesperson for Gov. Kevin Stitt said Tuesday simply that Stitt had "no change in position." Stitt's law prevents institutions from requiring masks or proof of COVID-19 vaccination status without, at minimum, a gubernatorial declaration of a health emergency, which Stitt has said he does not believe is necessary in Oklahoma.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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