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Appeals court sides with IU on vaccine mandate, lawyer says he'll ask Supreme Court to reconsider

The federal appeals court ruling said students who don't want to get vaccinated can seek "ample educational opportunities” elsewhere.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A federal appeals court has ruled that Indiana University can proceed with its plan to require students and employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

The Chicago-based appeals court upheld a district court judge's ruling that found that the university was acting reasonably "in pursuing public health and safety for its campus communities." 

IU's policy requires students to be vaccinated to attend the university and the Associated Press reported that the appeals court ruling said students who don't want to get vaccinated can seek "ample educational opportunities” elsewhere.

Monday's ruling is the highest court decision regarding college immunization mandates. James Bopp, the plaintiffs' lawyer, says he will ask the Supreme Court to consider the case. 

Earlier in the day Monday, a federal appeals court ruled to allow IU's vaccine requirement to continue while the appeal plays out in court. This ruling rejected a request by eight IU students who sought to block the requirement while they challenge its legality, claiming it would violate their constitutional rights by forcing them to receive unwanted medical treatment. 

The ruling found that since universities can already require surrendering property or requiring students to read or write about certain things, it was "hard to see a greater problem with medical conditions that help all students remain safe while learning."

The federal appeals court also found that it would be hard for a university to function when "each student fears that everyone else may be spreading disease."

IU issued a statement to 13News in response to the appeals court decision:

"Once again, the court has affirmed our legitimate public health interest in assuring the safety of our students, faculty and staff and we are excited to welcome our community back for the fall semester."

IU will not require documentation that students, faculty and staff have received the COVID-19 vaccine by the fall semester. IU is still requiring everyone working or enrolled at any of its campuses to be vaccinated. The change in requiring documentation comes after state lawmakers and Indiana's attorney general said it violates a new state law banning immunization passports by the government.

Those who have received the vaccine can certify their status as part of an attestation form. Students, faculty and staff found to be lying could face punishment.  

People can apply for medical or religious reasons, or for an online exemption for those not present on or near campus. The university will be able to decide whether or not to grant an exemption. Exemptions details are included in the form. IU's Medical Response Team and other designated IU leaders will review exemption requests, responding within five business days.

Wearing a mask on campus will be optional for those students, faculty and staff who are fully vaccinated. There will also be no social distancing requirements for those who are fully vaccinated.

Students, faculty and staff who are fully vaccinated will not need to participate in mitigation testing. Those who are fully vaccinated will also not need to quarantine if they are in close contact with a person who is later found to have COVID-19.