Coronavirus & College: Leaders Have Messed Up the Reopening

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that on college campuses where students returned in person, there were COVID outbreaks. At some schools, it was so bad that the students were sent back home.

But how many cases are there? In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks into that question.

The good news, she discovered, is that there have been few hospitalizations. But how many? She writes, “Given that universities are making consequential policy changes based on the perceived threat of the coronavirus—with some going completely remote—it would seem reasonable for them to consider how sick it is actually making people on campus.”

Finding out information on hospitalizations is not easy, she discovered. When she inquired, university administrators declined to say, citing federal law, HIPPA and FERPA specifically.

The problem is that those laws apply to individual records, not aggregate numbers. Watkins quotes one critic: “Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, told the Post that ‘the reason universities are so confused about this is that their lawyers have been misusing FERPA for decades to block public records requests for things that FERPA doesn’t cover.’”

Watkins argues that all of this information should be made public. She concludes that “the institutions’ lack of hospitalization tracking is irresponsible because it could help policymakers make more prudent and measured decisions. If many students are contracting the virus, but most are asymptomatic or develop ‘mild symptoms,’ should campuses stay shut down, forcing students to take online classes? Even with routine testing, contact tracing, and enforced self-quarantine?”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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