Employees and students at Long Beach City College will need to be vaccinated before the start of the spring semester in order to be on campus after its board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday night to adopt a vaccine mandate.

All district employees regardless of their current work assignment will need to provide proof of vaccination by Jan. 3, and students will need to show proof by Jan. 22 to be allowed on campus. Unvaccinated students will be allowed to attend online classes and access online services without having to get a shot.

The Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees held a special meeting Thursday after postponing its original vote on the mandate last week to allow more time for the public to address the board about the pending vaccine requirement.

It voted unanimously to adopt the vaccine requirement with board members saying they were making a decision based on science and the greater good of the campus community.

“This is not about picking on anyone or retaliation or dispossession anyone of their job, we don’t want anyone to lose their job,” Board President Uduak Joe-Ntuk said. “We want people to get vaccinated so we can get back to some semblance of normalcy.”

According to campus data, about 68% of all students attending on-campus classes have already provided proof of vaccination and over 72% of employees have submitted proof.

Employees who do not provide proof of vaccination or obtain an exemption will be considered absent without leave. Potential disciplinary measures for employees were not spelled out in the resolution and are likely to be negotiated with individual unions.

For 40 minutes Thursday night, voicemails were played and emailed comments were read aloud to the board from members of the community and employees who shared their thoughts on the mandate. Nearly all employees who commented supported the mandate and said it was a necessary move to get students and teachers back on campus safely, and to increase student success.

David Morse, an English professor at the college, said that the ongoing public discourse about the vaccine being a matter of personal liberty was false, calling it a mater of public safety. Comparing COVID-19 vaccine requirements to abortion rights is a false equivalent, Morse said.

“These situations are not the same,” Morse said. “A woman’s choice to get an abortion does not put other people at risk.”

Robyn Arias, an assistant professor of life sciences, said that it is not possible for students and teachers to remain in a hybrid or online setting because some do not want to get vaccinated. There are labs associated with her classes that require students to be on campus, she said.

“I am pro any scientifically effective method to get us all back on campus next semester in safe manner,” she said.

Some opposed to the mandate likened it to abortion rights, slavery, racism and called the mandate an equity issue that could disproportionately affect students of color. The Black and Latino populations in Long Beach have lower vaccination rates than the city’s White and Asian populations, according to city data.

A speaker identified as John Paul said that there shouldn’t be external pressure on people to get vaccinated, noting that there is a lack of long-term studies available for people to make an informed choice.

“The resolution as written coerces individuals to vaccinate without free or informed consent,” Paul said, adding that a compassionate approach would be to continue to allow testing to serve as an alternative.

Weekly testing of students is on pace to cost the college about $500,000, according to Marlene Drinkwine, vice president of business services at the college. Drinkwine said that while employees have been required to pay for their own testing, if student tests continued into the spring semester when the college hopes to be closer to 21,000 students on campus the cost could rise to about $2.5 million.

Funding for the tests is being paid out of the college’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund dollars that was granted to it by the federal government. It would otherwise be used for things like buying new technology for students and teachers and general student support, Drinkwine said.

The college’s new mandate will allow for religious and medical exemptions for those who qualify, but the college can decline to provide accommodations in certain instances that would place an undue burden on the college.

Loy Nashua, the school’s vice president of human resources, said that each request will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and be fact-driven. The college could require documentation from doctors or religious leaders to verify exemption requests.

It’s likely that it will contract the requests out to a third-party firm that specializes in those kinds of exemptions, Nashua said.

[Editors note: The story has been updated to show that Robyn Arias is a woman.]

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.