With the COVID-19 vaccination deadline now behind University of New Mexico students, staff and faculty, an additional exception to the medical and religion exemptions remains: dual credit high school students. These students will be allowed to continue at UNM and on its campuses regardless of vaccination status, and they will not be subject to the same disciplinary action as full-time UNM students.

“(High school) students should follow the vaccination policies of their school districts,” Provost James Holloway wrote in an email to the UNM branch chancellors on Aug. 16. 

Rationale for the decision has varied. Holloway cited requests from branch chancellors to exempt high school students, difficulties in coordination with the charter high schools on the UNM-Gallup campus, an inability to bill disciplinary fines to the schools which pay for the student’s college fees, and a portion of UNM-Gallup students who do not have NET IDs and are therefore unable to report vaccination status altogether.

According to Holloway, UNM-Gallup in particular has a very “complex” relationship to its high school student body due to the charter schools that they share their campus with. This factored heavily into the decision to exempt high school students on campus.

This decision has caused frustration for many faculty members on campus. In a letter published in the Daily Lobo on Sept. 27, Ernesto A. Longa, president of the United Academics of the University of New Mexico, spoke on his grievances with UNM’s decision.

“The administration constantly reminds our branch campus colleagues to treat their high school students as they would any other group of college students,” Longa wrote. “Why can’t the administration follow its own advice and require high school students taking UNM classes be vaccinated just as UNM students are required to be vaccinated?”

Longa also noted that both Central New Mexico Community College and New Mexico State University are either requiring vaccinations or weekly negative COVID-19 test results for all high school students on their campuses.

Faculty at the UNM-Gallup campus, whose student body is roughly half high school students, felt similarly slighted by the decision made by the Office of the Provost. The UNM-Gallup Faculty Assembly, led by  President Matthew Mingus, formally requested that Holloway withdraw the exemption in a letter issued on Aug. 20.

“This new exemption shows little regard for the health and safety of UNM-Gallup’s faculty, staff and students,” the UNM-Gallup Faculty Assembly wrote in the letter to Holloway. “It dramatically deviates from the UNM Board of Regents’ vaccination mandate, and it undermines UNM’s attempts to ‘bring back the pack’ by ignoring public health guidance and making COVID-19 outbreaks more likely on our campus and in our communities.”

According to UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair, although dual credit students on main campus are exempt from vaccinations, they have access to the same vaccination reporting and COVID-19 case reporting portals as full-time students. 

“School districts also have their own additional policies and protocols for students who report being positive or have an exposure,” Blair said.

Longa highlighted the University’s failures to clearly disclose the exempt status of high school students on UNM campuses in his letter. Information on the dual credit exemption is not currently present in the exemptions section of the Bring Back the Pack website, nor the frequently asked questions section.

According to Blair, UNM’s main campus currently has 117 dual enrollment students who take in-person courses. At the time of publication, 82.5% of the student body reported being fully vaccinated, including all main campus students with dual enrollment students who chose to disclose their vaccination status.

“We are constantly reviewing the various trend data to determine if action needs to be taken in responding to the effects of the pandemic on our campuses,” Blair said.

Albuquerque Public Schools, one of the high school branches approved to participate in UNM’s dual credit program, currently recommends but does not require vaccinations for all eligible students, according to its website.

Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle