State Center Community College District trustees voted 5-2 on Monday to mandate vaccinations for students, staffers, and contractors on campuses effective Oct. 15.
That puts the district in line with the California Community Colleges chancellor’s office and board of governors, which recommended making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, and the Fresno County Department of Public Health, which has been urging local employers to make vaccinations mandatory because of surging case numbers here.
Even so, interim Chancellor Douglas Houston had recommended against mandatory vaccinations, focusing instead on remote work options, increasing coronavirus testing, and other mitigation measures but leaving the door open to a future vaccination mandate.
Houston acknowledged that his cabinet, including the presidents of Fresno City College, Clovis Community College, Reedley College, and Madera Community College, had come down on the side of requiring vaccinations except for those who claim a “sincerely held” religious belief or medical exemption.
However, he said he felt the district could still make room for “individual choice,” at least for now.
“I have some deep concerns about our capacity to actually enforce such a mandate, what it will mean for students and for employees who, regardless of whether they apply for a religious exemption or a medical exemption, simply choose not to undergo vaccination for their own personal reasons,” he said.
UC, CSU Mandate Vaccinations
The University of California and California State University systems decided earlier this summer to require vaccinations for students and staff to be on campus. The California Community Colleges system has oversight but not the same direct control as the UC and CSU systems and is unable to issue a vaccination mandate.
Most representatives of the district’s labor organizations spoke at Monday’s meeting in support of requiring vaccinations, with the exception of the State Center Federation of Teachers, which took a neutral stance.
Virginia Beamer, president of State Center’s chapter of the California School Employees Association, said mandatory vaccinations will protect support staff. While faculty still have the luxury of being able to work from home, noncertificated school staffers are “front line workers” who risk exposure to COVID-19 infection, she said.
Risks of Vaccine
But employee Sage Vindiola said she’s more worried about potential short-term and long-term impacts from the vaccine than the coronavirus itself. She said she’s a single mother of nine children and is their sole provider.
“I cannot take a vaccine that could end my life, and then what happens to them? Where do they go?” she said. “I would much rather risk my chances catching COVID-19 where I have over a 99% survivability rate.”
Survivability isn’t the only issue, said Rebecca Benas, a Fresno City College faculty member and a COVID-19 long hauler. Benas said that since she caught COVID in the summer of 2020, she has struggled with fatigue, pain, and weakness, and initially lost her sense of smell altogether. Things still don’t smell or taste right, she said.
“I’ve lost over 20% of my body weight, because most foods smell and taste like chemicals, vomit, and charcoal,” Benas said.
The 5-2 vote, with trustees Richard Caglia and Bobby Kahn opposing the vaccination mandate, came after a detailed presentation by Houston and other district officials that included a look at Fresno County’s surging COVID-19 cases and lagging vaccination rates and statements by health officials in support of requiring vaccinations.
Monday’s special meeting had been rescheduled from Friday, when the district learned that the virtual meeting had not been set up to accommodate hundreds of people who tried to attend online.