By Annette Mullaney
The City College Board of Trustees approved a vaccine mandate Thursday, Aug. 12.
The mandate requires vaccinations before Oct. 1, 2021 or when at least one COVID-19 vaccine received final Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, whichever is sooner. Currently, the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have emergency authorization, with the New York Times reporting that Pfizer may receive final approval in early September.
In the meantime, the Fall ‘21 semester will start without any vaccination requirements. According to the College, 25% of class offerings will be in-person for the Fall ‘21 semester, with the rest continuing to be remote.
The resolution cited the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) July 27 recommendation for all community colleges to adopt vaccine requirements.
The mandate will apply to all students, staff, faculty, and any members of the public on any City College campus without an approved exemption. While the resolution does not detail what will be considered grounds for exemption, it does reference the CCCCO’s recommendation for mandates to include “flexibility … due to medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs.”
That nod to flexibility was echoed in an Aug. 16 press release from the College about the mandate resolution in which Interim Chancellor Dianna Gonzales described the mandate as “not prescriptive, but one that is flexible enough to accommodate exemptions.”
For those that are not vaccinated by the deadline, they will be required to wear masks on campus and present weekly negative COVID-19 test results.
Further details about the mandate will be presented at the Aug. 26 Board of Trustees meeting. Many aspects of implementation, such as how vaccine status will be confirmed, remain to be worked out between the administration, faculty, and staff.
An Aug. 11, 2021 press release from faculty union AFT 2121 said, “We have to make sure that faculty are not required to be the vaccination cops. We will not interrupt our classes to check the vaccination status of our students, nor determine medical exemptions.”
An AFT 2121 survey of faculty found that of those who responded, 84% were in favor of City College instituting a vaccine mandate for faculty, and 78% were in favor of one for students.
Many faculty, including the Higher Education Action Team (HEAT), a faculty activist group, had been calling for a vaccine mandate for months. In an Aug. 9 press release, HEAT demanded the college institute a vaccine mandate, particularly in light of “increased concern over the highly infectious COVID delta variant.” The press release also called attention to the fact that 29 other community colleges in California had already adopted vaccine mandates.
The Delta variant was referenced three times in the board’s vaccine mandate resolution, noting the increase of cases and hospitalizations in San Francisco due to the highly contagious variant.
At an Aug. 16 HEAT press conference held on the steps on Conlan Hall at Ocean Campus, Trustee John Rizzo said he has been pushing for a vaccine mandate for three months.
“Our concern is this Delta variant. We don’t even know the implications of it. We don’t know what the long-term effects are,” he said, adding, “This is serious, serious, deadly stuff. Our number one priority at City College has to be to have a space that is safe and healthy for everyone.
Rick Baum, Political Science instructor at City College and HEAT member, said that the adoption of the vaccine mandate was late, coming “Weeks after it was done at hundreds of other colleges.” He added, “Those in charge at City College have not taken timely steps to protect people’s health.”
Labor organizer Steve Zeltzer called out the lack of COVID-19 testing on City College’s campus. “You would think after a year of this pandemic there would be testing available,” he said, comparing that unfavorably with Stanford University’s mass testing for students, faculty, and staff.
HEAT is also calling for the administration to release details on the college’s building’s compliance with CDC recommendations for ventilation and other COVID-19 safety measures.
Music Department Chair and HEAT member Madeline Mueller said the college’s facilities committee will be meeting Aug. 23 to get updates “building by building.”
“The campus has older buildings,” Mueller said, “the HVAC systems are different than other schools. We have to get this up to snuff.”