After being shot down twice — once in May and again in June — Santa Barbara City College’s COVID vaccine mandate was passed at Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting.
In a 6-1 vote, the board approved the resolution, which would require all students, employees, and visitors at any campus building or SBCC teaching location to be vaccinated. Anybody that will be on campus will need to provide documentation by October 1, or earlier if a vaccine receives FDA approval.
Three out of the four trustees who voted against the mandate on June 24 — Kate Parker, Peter Haslund, and Robert Miller — overturned their votes after consulting with county health officials about the recent spike in COVID cases and receiving pressure from staff, faculty, and the campus community.
Trustee Miller, who originally voted against the issue, spoke on his reasons for supporting the resolution this time around. He said that in May, the board drafted a recommendation that encouraged and incentivized the campus community to get vaccinated, but at that time, county case rates were not at the point where he felt a mandate was appropriate. The administration’s main objective, Miller said, has always been a “safe return” to campus.
“I truly believed that we could achieve our safety objectives without a COVID mandate,” Miller said. “In the spring and early summer, it looked like we were on our way to defeating coronavirus. Today, that is obviously not the case.”
He added that on June 24, the last time the mandate came before the board, there were seven cases reported in the county, and the case rate was steadily on the decline. Since then, a rash of cases from new variants have led to the county announcing mask mandates and several institutions to mandate vaccinations.
“Yesterday, there were 104 new cases reported,” Miller said. “We all know why these numbers have gone up so much: The Delta variant is a much more potent version than the original coronavirus.”
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More than half of the board meeting was dedicated to a contentious round of public comment. The commenters were split on the issue, but many of the staff, faculty, and students with direct ties to SBCC were in support of a vaccination mandate and critical of the boardmembers who had delayed its approval. The measure had been backed by the California School Employees Association (CSEA), Faculty Association, and Academic Senate — which decided two days before to take a vote of no confidence on five members of the Board of Trustees.
Though the issue of a vaccine mandate was the final straw that led to the no confidence vote, Academic Senate President Raeanne Napoleon is drafting a “writ of particulars” listing problems with the board going back years before the pandemic. With the mandate now approved, the consequences of this no confidence vote are yet to be determined.
Some members of the community spoke against mandates, saying that students should not have to feel forced to receive vaccines in order to attend school.
Trustee Parker, who also flipped her vote, said that students still have the option for online classes, which will be offered in nearly every discipline. “Many of our classes are going to be available online. In fact, a majority of our classes are still going to be online in the fall,” Parker said.
“So this does not close off SBCC to our students that are either medically compromised in some way — and absolutely are not going to be required to take the shot — or if they are philosophically worried about it and don’t want to take the shot at this time.”
Trustee Veronica Gallardo was the only boardmember to vote against the mandate. She said that SBCC should be “removing barriers, not putting up more barriers,” and that students should have “more time” to decide on vaccination.
“We want to give them time,” said interim Superintendent/President Helen Benjamin. The October 1 deadline is intended to give these students time to consult their physicians and find which vaccine they are most comfortable with. ”We didn’t want to rush that process.”
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