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MSU fires 96 staffers, suspends 17 students for not following COVID vaccine, testing rules

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Amanda Barberena

Michigan State University has suspended 17 students and fired 96 employees for not complying with COVID-19 vaccine or testing requirements, an MSU spokesman said Thursday.

Two of those staffers — Kraig Ehm and D’Ann Rohrer — joined a federal lawsuit this month, arguing MSU violated their constitutional rights by terminating them for not being vaccinated.

“Their jobs are at stake, their careers and their livelihoods," said Jenin Younes, their attorney with the New Civil Liberties Alliance.

Younes is also representing Jeanna Norris, an MSU employee who initiated the lawsuit earlier this year after she declined to get vaccinated.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Maloney has thus far sided with the school in response to motions in the case. He's determined that vaccines protect the public good and that there is no fundamental right to remain employed while refusing inoculation. He's also been unconvinced by Norris' argument she does not need the vaccine because she's had COVID-19 previously.

Norris is still employed by MSU, although she is on leave, according to university spokesman Dan Olsen.

MSU is requiring all students and staff to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus unless they have a religious or medical exemption. Those with exemptions must get tested weekly.

Students and staff could have been fired or suspended for violating those policies in a number of ways. They may have neglected to submit their vaccination status to the university via an online form, they might have submitted the form to indicate they are unvaccinated or they might have an exemption but not kept up with testing.

Close to 94% of MSU employees and about 90% of students have submitted forms to self-verify being fully vaccinated, according to a university dashboard updated Thursday.

“COVID-19 vaccines are one of the most powerful and one of the few tools we have to prevent disease, severe illness and death," Olsen said in a statement. "The university has communicated directly with students and employees several times to remind them of their obligations under the vaccination directive."

Non-compliant students are being suspended for the rest of the fall semester, Olsen said.

MSU has nearly 50,000 students and about 12,000 employees, not including student and on-call employees.

Sarah Lehr is a state government reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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