Will federal vaccine executive order apply to all university employees?

On Thursday, the University of Idaho said a Biden administration vaccine mandate applies to all 5,474 of its employees.

On Friday, spokeswoman Jodi Walker said the U of I was “re-evaluating” the situation.

The mixed messages come as Idaho university officials scramble to figure out the implications of the White House executive order — and as Idaho joins a federal lawsuit to try to stop the order.

At issue is a far-reaching Biden administration order that requires federal contractor employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The order applies to Idaho’s three four-year universities, which receive $89 million in federal research contracts, collectively. But it’s not immediately clear how many employees or students would fall under the order.

In a Thursday email to Idaho Education News, Walker said the U of I believed the order extends to all employees, whether they work on contracts or not. But in a telephone interview Friday, she said the university is taking another look at the order.

Boise State University is also trying to work out details.

“The executive order appears to apply to many of our employees (subject to limited exceptions for religious and medical exemptions),” the university’s human resources office said in a memo to staff Friday.

Boise State has some employees who work remotely and never come on campus, and university officials are trying to figure out if the executive order affects them as well, spokesman Mike Sharp said Friday.

Idaho State University did not immediately respond to an email Friday on the executive order.

On Tuesday, the State Board of Education agreed to sign on to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Biden executive order. But at the same time, the State Board also instructed the state’s four-year schools to take steps to comply with the directive, known as Executive Order 14042. The state of Idaho had already signed on as a plaintiff on Oct. 29.

As it now stands, the order requires vaccinations by Jan. 4, unless an employee receives a medical or religious exemption.

The order doesn’t require widespread student vaccinations, but some students might be affected nonetheless. The State Board and the U of I say the order extends to students who are also university employees.

The legal battle over the Biden vaccine mandates is unfolding on several fronts. On Thursday, Gov. Brad Little said he would join a lawsuit seeking to block a federal labor rule covering private employers with more than 100 workers. That rule does not apply to public universities, although it would affect private schools.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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