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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Area colleges in-state registration holds, fines for students who don’t comply with COVID-19 vaccine requirement

Student Miles Lewis receives a COVID-19 vaccine from Adam Phillips, an RN with Spokane Public Schools, in May at NC High School.   (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Many colleges and universities across the Eastern Washington region are requiring students and staff to submit either proof of their COVID-19 vaccinations or exemption forms ahead of their fall semesters.

But what happens if they don’t?

Fines and registration holds are among the methods area institutions have either instituted or considered, with classes set to return in the coming weeks.

Eastern Washington University, for example, is employing a $250 per term fine to enforce the vaccine requirement with students. The university is requiring proof of vaccination or requests for medical/religious exemptions by Sept. 15.

Interim President David May said fines will be imposed on the 10th day of the quarter, which is when the university officially determines who is, and isn’t, enrolled.

Students would then have two weeks to work with student affairs to get the fine removed, he said. A process in the student conduct code also will allow students to request a hearing to explain why the information wasn’t uploaded, which could similarly prevent the fine.

“Ideally, I’d like $0 in fines. It’s not a money-making enterprise for the institution,” May said. “It’s simply a mechanism to try to get compliance with a policy requirement.

May said EWU administrators decided against a registration hold for the subsequent term based on past experience.

He said the university used registration holds to enforce Eastern’s measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine requirement starting in around 2019, but found preventing people from progressing through their degree “was not the best way to approach this.”

As such, the $250 per term fine is in place for COVID-19 and now the MMR vaccine requirements. The goal, May said, “really is to get people’s attention.”

“I’m hopeful, first of all, that the number of people who haven’t uploaded their information at the start of the quarter will be fairly small,” he said, “and I’m hoping whatever number that is, the vast majority if not all of them need to be woken up to the necessity again.”

Employees, meanwhile, have a separate process through the university’s human resources department, following standards for submitting other required documentation, May said.

Gonzaga University and Washington State University have opted to enforce their requirements using registration holds.

Gonzaga students who will physically be on campus at some point for the fall semester have until Aug. 6 to upload their vaccination information.

Students who miss the deadline will have a hold placed on their enrollment, according to the university, meaning the student will not be able to register for or drop classes, attend classes or access campus facilities.

The hold will be removed once the student documents in the portal that they have started the vaccination process or have submitted an exemption.

“Because we view this as a health and safety issue, we’ve made vaccination verification or approved exemption a condition of in-person enrollment,” Gonzaga spokeswoman Mary Joan Hahn said via email.

Gonzaga faculty and staff also have to meet the Aug. 6 deadline.

“If they do not comply, they will work with their managers/supervisors to determine a solution moving forward,” Hahn said.

At WSU, administrators have asked students and staff to submit their documentation by the start of the fall semester, Aug. 23. Pullman students living on campus are an outlier, as they have to submit their information earlier in the month.

The university is allowing for personal exemptions, as well as medical/religious.

University spokesman Phil Weiler said the hold on a student’s registration wouldn’t take place until the spring semester. Weiler said the university probably would not have allowed fall registration “if we had the ability to make the determination early enough.”

“We had to make that decision back in April because our graduation was May 9. We had to make a decision before students were in the midst of finals and sort of tuning out email and things like that,” he said. “At that point, this really was a kind of an untested question about what do these medical and nonmedical exemptions look like, and at that point, people had already registered for fall semester.”

Weiler said a registration hold is also used with the university’s MMR vaccine requirement. That, he said, factored into why the university elected to go this route with the COVID-19 vaccine .

“If an employee doesn’t do that, they’re going to be subject to standard progressive discipline associated with any other requirement we would have of an employee,” Weiler said.

Whitworth University and the Community Colleges of Spokane have not yet finalized their enforcement measures, representatives indicated this week.