U.S. Colleges Ask Parents in SARS Countries to Skip Graduations

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Concern about SARS (search) has prompted at least three American universities to ask families living in Asian countries hard-hit by the disease to skip the commencement ceremonies for loved ones graduating this month.

The requests from the schools -- Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, the University of Rochester and Washington University in St. Louis -- were reported Thursday by The Chronicle of Higher Education (search).

School representatives stressed that, despite their requests, graduates' families and friends coming from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong will not be banned from graduation ceremonies.

"We're not going to do anything to stop a person's right to travel," Fred Volkmann, vice chancellor for public affairs at Washington University, told The Associated Press.

All three institutions enroll significant numbers of students from Asian nations that are listed on travel advisories posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search) and the World Health Organization.

More than 500 deaths have been attributed to SARS worldwide, and more than 7,000 people are believed to have been infected with the disease.

Weide Sun, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, didn't fault the schools. "China understands the measures that need to be taken in order to control and prevent the spread of SARS," he said.

An infectious disease expert with Case Western called the advisory a preventive measure.

"With a very closed ceremony like that we wanted to be thinking about it, that's all," said Dr. Robert Salata.

Relatives of graduates who choose to come to the United States and show up at graduation ceremonies exhibiting the symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome will be evaluated on the site, he said.

All three universities promised to broadcast their commencement exercises in real-time video, by way of the Internet, to families that remain in Asia.