OCC Covid

Through Coast Report’s coverage on the current state of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate with testing protocol, we have become aware of certain issues and have developed serious concerns that Orange Coast College is not yet adequately prepared to keep students, faculty and staff safe as we return to campus in spring 2022.

Our first concern is the lack of clear communication between the Coast Community College District (CCCD), faculty, staff and students. Though we were supposed to learn details of the return to campus no later than Oct. 1, the vaccine or testing protocol was not announced until several weeks after the deadline. Even now, details about this protocol and what exactly it will look like as we return to campus remain unclear.

In an interview with Coast Report, OCC Dean of Students Derek Vergara said that school and district leaders were waiting until the student forum to gather student feedback before making certain decisions. However, students will have been registering for spring classes for 26 days by that point. They are being put in the position of making choices about their education without yet knowing the details of what the return to campus will entail. 

Our next concern deals with enforcement of the vaccine mandate with testing protocol. As the CCCD acknowledges in their vaccine mandate passed in August, no solution is a silver bullet and “perfect in isolation.” This means that how well these solutions work falls to how well they’re enforced.

The OCC community’s health and safety will depend on the school’s ability to successfully monitor exempt students to make sure they’re regularly reporting for their testing, keep faculty readily updated on which students are complying and swiftly remove students not complying from the classroom environment. 

If exempt students miss a test and can’t come to class, will that be an excused absence? How many times can this occur before the student can be dropped from the class? Can this become a system that’s abused by students, in order to have an excused absence for a test or project deadline? What if an exempt faculty member misses a test? What happens to the students who are supposed to be in those classes?

Another pressing concern is the issue of when exempt students will begin testing. There is no point in time or situation where students, faculty and staff should be exposed to untested and unvaccinated students. We find it unacceptable for exempt students to be allowed in class the first day of school unless they have already been tested and faculty has immediate knowledge of which students are not complying with the vaccine mandate with testing protocol. 

Another concern of ours in regards to testing is the “sincerely held personal belief” aspect of the religious/sincerely held personal belief exemption. Proof is only required for the medical exemption, which leads us to worry that if there’s already a lack of enforcement regarding who gets this exemption, there could be an enforcement issue with carrying out this system when campus reopens. 

The world of issues associated with opening the door to the “sincerely held personal belief” aspect of the exemption, makes us wonder if the CCCD should open this can of worms at all. Given how complex of a task it will already be to test and track medically and religiously exempt students, faculty and staff, we should question whether it’s worth allowing for a sincerely held personal belief exemption. Is it worth it logistically, financially and perhaps even morally?

At what point does the CCCD’s support of the “sincerely held belief” exemption begin to affirm the misinformation and pseudoscience surrounding COVID-19 and its vaccines that have plagued our community

After comparing CCCD’s approach to those of neighboring institutions, our editorial board has grave concerns if the district and OCC are adequately prepared to protect students, faculty and staff from the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.  

Both the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems are only offering exemptions for religious and medical reasons. During the fall 2021 semester, the CSU system required students, faculty and staff with medical or religious exemptions to test for COVID-19 twice a week, with testing beginning three days before orientation week began on Aug. 19

The UC system requires campuses to test students with medical or religious exemptions at least once a week according to local requirements, with testing beginning two weeks before the start of the fall 2021 semester. Campuses such as UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara have opted for testing once a week, while campuses like UCLA and UC San Diego have opted for twice-a-week testing programs.  

Additionally, the Los Angeles Community College District is also only allowing exemptions for medical and religious reasons and is requiring exempted students to test at least once a week. In Orange County, the South Orange County Community College District is offering a sincerely held belief/religious exemption, but has warned that a request of accommodation is not a guarantee of approval. 

We understand that district and school leaders are trying to respect the diverse range of beliefs held by our community while making these decisions, but at what point will this begin to jeopardize the health and safety of others on campus who have been vaccinated or can’t for medical or legitimate religious reasons? 

Our editorial board calls for CCCD and OCC officials to require students to begin testing for COVID-19 at the same time as faculty, starting the week of Jan. 24. We also call for students to begin receiving more details about their return to campus, so they can empower themselves to make the best decision for their educational journey as soon as possible. 

Everyone wants to return to campus, but we want this to happen in a safe and productive manner. In the coming weeks, it is our hope that students, faculty and staff can begin to receive the guidance they need to inform their decisions and make our community stronger than ever as we return to campus in spring 2022. 

 

The Coast Report Editorial Board consists of the editor in chief and section editors. One member of the editorial board writes the editorial and this rotates throughout the semester. 

Editorial topics are pitched by all members of the board and a single topic is selected for each editorial. Each editorial board member votes on their position on the selected topic and the majority position becomes that of the editorial. In the event of a tie on the first vote, editorial board members engage in continued discussion and state the reasons for their initial vote. A second vote is then taken and the majority position becomes that of the editorial. In the event of a second tied vote, the editorial position will be decided at the discretion of the editor in chief.

For this editorial, the board vote on the issue resulted in a 6-0 majority of the board voting “no” to the question "Do you feel safe to return to the OCC campus this spring?" Coast Report publishes voting results to promote transparency.

 

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