City College students, faculty, staff call for requirement; UCSB to mandate, Westmont and Hancock won’t
A number of Santa Barbara City College students, faculty and staff called upon the college’s Board of Trustees Thursday to overturn a previous board decision and institute a vaccine mandate before classes begin in the fall.
The plea from the public comes after trustees voted against a vaccine mandate for the fall semester during a board meeting June 24. The vote that day was split 4-3, with trustees Kate Parker, Peter Haslund, Robert Miller and Veronica Gallardo opposed.
During Thursday’s meeting, the Board of Trustees were met by more than a dozen public commenters, the majority of whom voiced discontentment with the trustees’ prior decision to not require vaccination in the fall. Many of the concerned citizens said the lack of a mandate puts students, faculty and staff at risk of contracting COVID-19.
The trustees did not take any action at Thursday’s meeting, where passions were clearly strong among proponents and opponents of the mandate.
According to the results of a recent City College survey, 71% of faculty and 80% of staff at the college support a vaccine mandate. Multiple faculty and staff members told the board Thursday that the survey results should push the trustees to enforce a vaccine requirement, which they said would be in the best interest of City College employees.
“There is strong campus support (for the mandate),” Raeanne Napoleon, the president of the Academic Senate, said Thursday.
“You want us to open the campus in the fall with little disruption — get us this vaccine mandate,” she added.
During her comments, Ms. Napoleon blasted the board for following “political motivations and not public health motivations” when it comes to the school’s COVID-19 policy. She echoed the complaints of many public commenters, many of whom are concerned about potential disease spread without a vaccine mandate.
Marian Shapiro, a 79-year-old student enrolled in City College’s extended learning ceramics classes, said she and other seniors enrolled in the college’s programs feel unsafe continuing in-person classes without a vaccine mandate in place. She pleaded with the board to require vaccinations for all students in order to protect the school’s most vulnerable populations.
“I don’t want to take any chances being indoors with unvaccinated people,” Ms. Shapiro said. “I’m hearing this from many of my senior classmates who are similarly upset about the 3-4 vote against vaccination mandate.”
“We are extremely disappointed that our trustees voted against what science and public health experts say is the best way to protect against COVID,” she later added.
Former student Ethan Bertrand, who is also an elected representative of the Isla Vista Community Services District, told the board that he remains concerned for the health and safety of not just the students, but the community as well. Mr. Bertrand encouraged the board to align with the University of California system’s mandate, which requires that all on campus students be fully vaccinated for the fall semester.
“SBCC is well positioned to help increase vaccination rates for younger people by requiring students and staff to be vaccinated before returning to campus in person to the extent allowed by law,” Mr. Bertrand said. “This policy would be analogous with the University of California’s policy, and it could be done in an inclusive, supportive and equitable manner helping to curb the spread of the virus at the college.”
The board’s conversation on Thursday falls into a larger national debate that many college and university officials are facing right now regarding the need for a vaccine mandate. Even locally, colleges differ on vaccination policies.
At UCSB, all students will be required to be fully vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall, according to recent guidelines announced by the UC system.
Westmont College and Allan Hancock College, on the other hand, will not be enforcing a vaccine mandate on their campuses.
During the fall semester, students at Westmont College will be required to wear masks indoors while attending classes at the Montecito campus. In addition, unvaccinated students will be tested at the beginning of the semester.
“The college will continue to comply with best practices identified by California, Santa Barbara County and the Center for Disease Control,” Jason Taverez, Westmont director of institutional resilience, told the News-Press in a statement.
At Allan Hancock College, administrators plan to follow guidance from the California Department of Public Health when it comes to masking and social distancing. They plan to release more detailed COVID-19 policies by Aug. 1 for the college, which has its main campus in Santa Maria.
As Santa Barbara City College trustees continue to weigh the best path forward for the fall semester, they are wading through the divided opinions of staff and community members, some of whom support the board’s current policy.
Public commenter Aimee Smith voiced agreement with the board’s current COVID-19 policies, claiming that the vaccines are unsafe and can lead to negative long-term impacts. Most of Dr. Smith’s claims, however, were largely unverified and went against the evidence public health officials nationwide are presenting to prove vaccine safety.
“I strongly urge you to resist the pressure and the temptation and stand up for the rights of individuals that the angry, scared mob is willing to trample,” Dr. Smith said of the other commenters.
Dr. Smith’s comments received backlash from Bronwen Moore, a City College mathematics professor, who said the science is clear — the vaccines are safe.
Ms. Moore said the “my body, my right” argument touted by many people opposed to the vaccine does not hold weight in a setting where a large number of people could be at risk of illness.
“Is it really ‘my body, my right’ to expose the faculty, staff and students who did the right thing and got vaccinated?” Ms. Moore said. “I say, instead ‘my body my right,’ to you the trustees, it’s ‘our community, your responsibility’ to listen to the real science, not that gibberish that was just stated.”
While the trustees did not say whether they would make any changes to their policy, Board President Dr. Peter Halsand said the trustees would continue to weigh their options moving forward.
“If there’s one thing this board can agree on, it’s that this is a complicated issue,” Dr. Halsand said. “We’re struggling, and we will continue to struggle, and hopefully we’ll do the right thing.”