Foothill COVID-19 vaccine

A Foothill College student receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a May 22, 2021 vaccination clinic on campus.

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees last week unanimously supported creating a policy mandating that students and staff get vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall.

Trustees voted 5-0 at a June 14 meeting to move forward with drafting a formal policy and accompanying procedures requiring COVID-19 vaccines. District staff plan to present the specific policy language to the board for review at a scheduled July 12 meeting.

District Chancellor Judy Miner told the board last week that she was bringing the topic to them before the formal policy was ready because of the urgency of getting the word out to students and staff about the planned vaccine requirement.

The specifics of the mandate are still being worked out, with meetings scheduled to review the policy with various district groups, Miner said.

“The devil is always in the details, and so we know one of the most important aspects of this policy will actually be the administrative procedures,” she said.

Although the trustees are looking to approve the mandate this summer, the plan is for it not to take effect until both fall quarter has begun and at least one COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It also would be an interim policy, up for review in January 2022.

Currently, the three vaccines being administered in the U.S. have Emergency Use Authorizations from the FDA. It isn’t known when the FDA may grant full approval. Fall quarter begins Sept. 16 for employees and Sept. 20 for students.

The district has been operating remotely since last fall, with only a very limited number of programs on campus. That is expected to change in the fall, with Foothill planning to schedule more on-campus classes.

Once in effect, the vaccine mandate would require all employees working on campus or “performing off-campus person-to-person services for the district” to get vaccinated, as well as all students attending in-person classes or accessing in-person services. There would be exemptions for those with religious beliefs or medical conditions preventing vaccination.

The overwhelming majority of Foothill-De Anza employees already report being vaccinated. According to Miner, 96% of faculty and staff who filled out a self-certification form said they were vaccinated. Santa Clara County requires employers to determine employees’ vaccine status.

Under the mandate, unvaccinated employees would be addressed on a case-by-case, Miner said in an interview with the Town Crier. The goal would be to accommodate those employees, including letting them work remotely if possible, Miner said.

Those with religious or medical exemptions would be allowed on campus, but asked to wear a mask, she added.

Unvaccinated students would be given the option of continuing learning online, Miner said, adding that many students may want to remain remote.

For students who want to be back on campus but won’t get vaccinated and don’t meet the religious or medical exemption criteria, it’s more complicated. According to Miner, there are legal questions related to the colleges’ obligation to provide all students equal access to an education.

The vaccine mandate’s implementation and enforcement are still being worked out.

To determine who is vaccinated, the district plans to have students and staff self-report their vaccine status, potentially including information such as the date of their final vaccination and vaccine lot numbers, Miner said.

“We actually do believe our people are pretty trustworthy,” she said. “If people weren’t totally forthcoming, it would be the exception rather than the rule.”

She added that students and staff would be informed the district could ask for proof of vaccination as it sees fit.

Trustee reaction

At last week’s meeting, the trustees voted unanimously in favor of instituting a mandate, though some raised questions about its implementation.

“I’m just concerned about enforcement,” trustee Laura Casas said. “Like Judy said – devil’s in the details, so we’ll see.”

The board’s discussion took approximately 15 minutes, and no members of the public turned out to speak on the issue.

Trustee Pearl Cheng said she strongly supports the measure, adding that colleges and universities around the country are taking the same step.

“With public safety in mind, I think this is an important move,” Cheng said.

Michelle Fernandez, De Anza College student trustee, voted in favor of a mandate but shared concerns she said she heard from other students, including what options would be available for unvaccinated students.

“Personally, I support the mandate, but I’m just concerned for those communities who may be hesitant to get the vaccine,” Fernandez said, adding that communities of color have lower vaccination rates.

Foothill and De Anza each have a student trustee on the board with an advisory vote, which is recorded but doesn’t impact the final outcome.

Rachel Homayonfar, Foothill’s student trustee, backed the mandate, saying that students she’s spoken with told her they’d only feel safe on campus if vaccines are required.

“I fully support mandating this vaccine,” Homayonfar said. “I think this is a vital step that we need to take if we want everyone to be safe once we return back on campus.”

By

Staff Writer

Zoe Morgan covers local schools as the Town Crier's education reporter. She also edits the monthly Your Home section, as well as the biannual Home & Garden magazine.