School report card: Michigan school charges unvaccinated students to attend prom, public schools in Texas can't require masks

·7 min read
Marta Nguyen prepares to take a picture of her daughter Nina Nguyen and prom date Aidan Musgrave
A school in Michigan is facing backlash for charging unvaccinated students $80 to attend prom when admission is free for their vaccinated peers. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Michigan high school plans to charge unvaccinated students to attend prom

Southfield Regional Academic Campus in Southfield, Mich., is coming under fire after stating that it will charge unvaccinated students to attend prom. According to a flyer posted on the school's website about graduating events for the class of 2021, the June 14 prom will be free to vaccinated students. Unvaccinated students, on the other hand, will need to pay $80 to attend.

Some families are speaking out about the policy on Facebook, even threatening to sue the school. A protest, dubbed #PromGate, is scheduled to be held at the school from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday.

"SOUTHFIELD REGIONAL ACADEMIC CAMPUS should be ASHAMED of themselves!!!!" wrote Jayme Ansel McElvany, adding that the policy is "full out discrimination against those who have chosen not to give their child the experimental, highly suspicious, approved for emergency use only shot!! WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE???!"

McElvany, who did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment, continued, "We WILL be taking this to court." 

Many others expressed their outrage in the comments. "This is clear discrimination!" one said. "Sue the superintendent & the district! That is BS!" Others pointed out that having unvaccinated students attend, even if they do pay $80, wouldn't necessarily reduce the risk. "So, if you're unvaccinated but pay your $80, suddenly their concern of spreading Covid goes away? Who knew $80 could do that? Must be in a scientific journal I haven't read yet," someone wrote.

"The parents of the unvaccinated should rent a place and hold their OWN prom," another person wrote and offered to help host the event, before later admitting that they don't live in the area.

School principal Dwayne Eason did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for an interview.

"We're seeing mostly carrots in terms of getting people vaccinated, but this is a bit of a stick" Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life. "Whether this will encourage people to get vaccinated or avoid prom ... I'm not so sure."

Proms, in general, "have the potential to be riskier" and, even if masks and social distancing are required, "there will likely be a significant breakdown as the night goes on in following public health measures," Russo says. 

But the risk of attending prom right now is really to unvaccinated students, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. "The vaccinated do not have anything to fear from the unvaccinated and vice versa," he says. 

Still, Adalja says, this move may encourage some children to get vaccinated. "Prom is something important to many kids, and making it more expensive to attend if you're unvaccinated could prompt some to become vaccinated," he says. But, Adalja adds, it could have unintended consequences: "What you don't want to happen, however, is an alternative clandestine prom for the unvaccinated."

Public schools in Texas are forbidden to have mask mandates

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order this week banning governmental entities in the state, including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities or government officials, from requiring or mandating that masks be worn.

"Public schools may continue to follow current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4. After June 4, no student, teacher, parent or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus," the executive order reads.

Beginning Friday, any local governments or officials that attempt to impose a mask mandate or limits that conflict with the order will be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.

"The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities," Abbott said in the order. "Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up."

"The bottom line is that this will probably result in more cases because, if you can't mandate masks, that will mean you'll have individuals that will be in school that are infectious and asymptomatic," Russo says. However, he adds, "masks will largely protect individuals that wear them," so students and staff who plan to continue to wear face coverings should be at a lower risk of contracting the virus than those who are unmasked.

Peer pressure becomes a potential issue for compliance with lifted mandates too, Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. "Wearing masks can protect from COVID-19 and a lot of other spring and summertime viruses — as long as kids don't feel socially pressured to take off their masks," he says.

Schools in Idaho will not require COVID-19 vaccines for students and staff

The state of Idaho does not plan to require that school students and staff get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

"There are currently no plans for the state of Idaho to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory," Zachary Clark, public information officer at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, tells Yahoo Life. Idaho Gov. Brad Little previously issued an executive order banning government entities, which include public schools, from requiring people to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to enter buildings or receive services. The governors in Arizona, Florida, Montana and Texas have issued similar orders.

But Russo says that he "fully anticipates" that some states and school districts will mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students after they receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration. (Currently, the vaccines are authorized by the FDA, but not approved.) "We require mandatory vaccinations for diseases that are far less damaging and lethal than COVID-19," Russo points out. "Not only do these vaccines provide protection for the children, but they have significant community benefit."

Ganjian says the latest CDC data that shows COVID-19 cases dropping across the country is a good indication that the vaccine works. "Because we're seeing such an amazing response with the vaccine, I would encourage all school systems to require vaccinations to help bring down the numbers even more than they are now," he says. 

Students are suing the University of Delaware over remote learning

A federal judge ruled this week that lawsuits filed by former and current students at the University of Delaware who were unhappy with charges they faced during remote learning can proceed. The students say they should be granted refunds for services they did not receive when the school shut down its campus in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawsuits have been consolidated and are now seeking reimbursements on behalf of all University of Delaware students who paid for the school's spring 2020 semester, according to the Associated Press

Roy Willey IV, a lawyer for one group of students, told the Associated Press that the school shouldn't keep money for services it didn't provide. They promised one thing, and didn't deliver it," he said, citing closed services such as the gym, student health and counseling center and other campus facilities that students paid to use. 

"All we are saying is that, based on what we paid for and what you actually did, we're entitled to a reasonable, fair, prorated refund," Willey told the AP. Willey did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment.

James Taylor, a lawyer for the University of Delaware, argued that the school catalog makes it clear that students are required to pay tuition and fees when they register. "This is a contract and agreement," he said. 

Ultimately, Judge Stephanos Bibas ruled that, while the students may not be entitled to full tuition refunds, they can at least try to get reimbursements for fees that covered services they didn't receive. "At a minimum, the fees claims are going to survive and proceed," he said.

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