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SRJC to implement COVID-19 vaccine mandate

While campus community members will have the option to test weekly for COVID-19 this semester, next semester students will be allowed to take in-person classes only if they provide proof of vaccination, according to Monday’s announcement.|

Santa Rosa Junior College will move to require all faculty, staff, students and volunteers who are working or attending class on campus to present proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing, President Frank Chong announced Monday.

The “soft mandate,” which will need to be approved by the SRJC Board of Trustees to go into effect, would provide another mitigation method against the spread of COVID-19, especially the highly contagious delta variant.

It also aligns with the requirements put in place by Gov. Gavin Newsom for K-12 school staff, as well as the University of California and California State University systems’ vaccinate-or-test requirements for both staff and students.

“I believe that implementing this requirement is in the best interests of our entire community,” Chong wrote in an email to SRJC employees Monday afternoon. “I will be bringing a resolution for consideration to the Tuesday, Sept. 14 board meeting.”

Chong’s announcement landed on the first day of class for the fall semester, during which approximately one-third of scheduled courses are being conducted in person. In contrast to California’s public K-12 systems and many universities, including Sonoma State University, SRJC leaders decided in the spring to stick with a “largely remote” format.

Still, hundreds of students and teachers could be seen on campus Monday, seeking relief from the midafternoon heat in patches of shade and air-conditioned buildings. Before entering any building, students had to check in with an app, attesting that they were experiencing no potential COVID-19 symptoms.

Around 1 p.m., Markus Obata was seated on the ground with his back against a tree near Analy Hall, listening to his professor go through the syllabus in his second class of the day. He had attended an in-person art class earlier.

Obata is vaccinated. He said he believes it’s an important way to guard against infection. And he isn’t particularly nervous about coming down with COVID-19.

Even so, he said, “I’m not quite sure what to think” about a vaccine mandate. His experiences in elementary and high school classrooms were more cramped and confining than what he’s seen so far of his college campus.

The current precautions of masking indoors and contact tracing also gave him confidence.

“Even if they don’t make vaccines mandatory, it looks like they’re going to do a really good job of handling it if someone does come out with a case of COVID,” Obata said.

The “soft mandate” Chong described is set to become more strict for students by the spring, however. Next semester, students will be allowed to take in-person classes only if they provide proof of vaccination. Testing will no longer be an option.

“We just don’t see having the resources and capabilities to continually test we don’t know how many students,” Chong said. But for the current semester, he added, “We felt it would be unfair to ask (students) to turn now and get a vaccine when they could say, ‘You didn’t ask for this when I signed up for this class.’”

COVID-19 tests are available to students and staff on campus, as are vaccines.

Chong had previously hoped for a vaccine mandate to come from the state level, for all California community colleges, he said. But further conversations with members of the SRJC Board of Trustees, Sonoma County Health Office Dr. Sundari Mase and other officials helped push him to pursue a local requirement.

In the weeks before the Sept. 14 board vote, SRJC administrators and union negotiators will work out the details of the practical impacts on faculty and staff.

Anne Belden, an instructor in the communication studies department and adviser for The Oak Leaf, the student news publication, said she supports a vaccine requirement.

“I fully agree with it,” she said. Work on The Oak Leaf will largely take place back on campus this year, with the exception of a few students.

Most of those students are already vaccinated, she said, but the vaccine requirement will help minimize their potential exposure to COVID elsewhere on campus.

Jimena Garcia, who is studying automotive technology, also expressed confidence in the vaccine she received. She said she doesn’t believe people should be forced to get a vaccine, but testing the unvaccinated is a good way to keep people safe.

Even though she’s taking art and yoga in person this semester, after her first year of college was relegated to online instruction, Garcia is hanging her hope on finally being able to take more hands-on classes in her area of interest by the spring.

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” she said. “I feel like it’s easier to be back on campus. It’s less stressful to be in person than online.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

Kaylee Tornay

Education, The Press Democrat

Learning is a transformative experience. Beyond that, it’s a right, under the law, for every child in this country. But we also look to local schools to do much more than teach children; they are tasked with feeding them, socializing them and offering skills in leadership and civics. My job is to help you make sense of K-12 education in Sonoma County and beyond.  

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