The Allan Hancock College Board of Trustees voted to include sincerely held beliefs and antibodies from prior COVID-19 infection exemptions to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate during a special meeting Tuesday evening.
Further, they decided those unvaccinated will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test every three days. Administrators have ordered rapid test kits for the campus.
Trustees Hilda Zacarias and Alejandra Enciso Medina were opposed to including sincerely held beliefs as an exemption.
Ms. Zacarias considers the issue an emotional one, she said, as an immunocompromised student and caregiver of two loved ones in hospice.
“I don’t have immunity, and even the vaccine has to be given to me more regularly because it does not work in my body system,” she said. “Does that mean now I am not a candidate for additional education, that I have to drop my goal of being able to get my degree that I’ve been seeking for the last year?”
Mr. Medina thought the exemption wasn’t strict enough, but she also struggled with drawing the line at what is a valid belief.
“I feel like we would be opening the doors for everyone,” she said. “And like all of us said, none of us want to take the burden of deciding which are religious or personal beliefs. And so that’s really hard for me to take in, especially because I know that my freedom ends when it affects someone else’s health or, personally, safety.”
The board chose the language of “sincerely held belief” without further specifying religious beliefs, as those are included in sincerely held beliefs.
Superintendent/President Kevin G. Walthers noted that there were “a lot of mixed opinions” from students, faculty and other stakeholders.
“We don’t want to be the arbiters of sincere religious beliefs. We think that that is a slippery slope,” he said.
Public comments were mixed but respectful.
One student was frustrated that he didn’t understand the jargon often used in COVID-19 protocol, such as “asymptomatic.”
He said other students believe misinformation, such as theories that the vaccine would keep them from going to heaven. He was sympathetic and wanted the college to reach out with more education for students.
Dr. Alina Romo, assistant professor of English at Hancock, took a more aggressive stance on misinformation.
“When we as professors, as an institution of higher learning, allow individuals to assert that things have meaning and facts are only facts, when it is convenient to them, we run the risk of dismantling the foundational role of education,” she said.
Tyson Aye, men’s basketball coach, spoke on behalf of the athletics department and asked for regular testing as an acceptable exemption.
“We have a number, a number of out-area students that have pretty much gone all in financially and personally, to be at our college. And to pull this out from under them after the fact, we do not think it is the right thing to do,” he said.
Other faculty also noted that students enrolled prior to the mandate.
Hancock’s Fire Academy Coordinator Leonard Champion said he didn’t believe testing was reasonable.
“I’m asking you to implement daily screening of all students and faculty, instead of invasive testing for only one group. Those (vaccinated) still can transmit the virus, so treat both and screen both as such,” he said.
Students and staff have until Oct. 1 to get vaccinated.
The college is incentivizing vaccination with $250 Visa gift cards. Over 4,100 credit and non-credit students have claimed their cards.