As schools and colleges prepare to open their campuses for the coming school and academic year, mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies are being implemented with increasing frequency. These policies are prompted not only by an increase in COVID-19 cases across California, specifically due to the highly transmittable Delta variant, but also by increasing recognition that state and local agencies have the legal authority to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
The University of California (“UC”) recently approved a final policy regarding required COVID-19 vaccinations. (https://ucnet.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/2021/07/ucs-covid-19-vaccine-policy.html)
The UC policy will require, with few exceptions, that all students, faculty, and staff be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus before they will be allowed on campus, in a facility, or in an office. Individuals will be required to show proof of vaccination, and UC locations are preparing for how they will record individual vaccination status. Compliance with the policy will be required two weeks before faculty, staff, and students are expected to be on campus for the fall term.
The UC policy will allow for medical exemptions consistent with the CDC guidelines. Faculty, staff, and students will also be eligible to request accommodations based on disability or religious belief, in compliance with federal and California law. Deferrals are available for those who are pregnant.
Those with approved exemptions, accommodations, or deferrals may return to their location with the expectation that they will remain masked in all public settings and comply with the local testing plan. Campuses with lower vaccination levels may require masks for everyone in classrooms or lecture halls. UC employees who choose not to be vaccinated, and have no approved exemption, accommodation, or deferral, may face disciplinary actions.
More of the state's community colleges are announcing that they will require students and employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 this fall. In June, Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County was one of the first colleges in the state to announce a vaccine mandate. To provide for public safety, the college plans to maintain the mask requirement for those on campus in the fall. Since then, at least 29 of the state's 115 in-person community colleges have announced some form of a vaccine requirement for this fall with more taking up the issue at board meetings this month.
Los Angeles Community College District, the largest in the state, approved a policy on August 4th requiring students and employees who will be on any of their nine campuses to be fully vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing. Late that same night, Cerritos College approved a similar policy. The use of masks will continue to be required.
Los Rios Community College District in the Sacramento area approved a stricter mandate that will require all students and staff to be vaccinated by October 1 unless they have a medical or religious exception. If students are not vaccinated and have no exception, they will not be allowed to attend any classes or events on campus but can take classes online.
Peralta Community College District in Oakland, Long Beach City College, and Santa Monica College have also recently announced vaccine requirements for students and employees. Long Beach will require weekly testing for those not vaccinated.
Colleges across the country are implementing plans to require COVID-19 vaccinations. As recently as August 2, 2021, a federal appeals court ruled that Indiana University can proceed with its plan to require students and employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19, in what is the highest court decision regarding college immunization mandates thus far. The appeals court found that the university was acting reasonably “in pursuing public health and safety for its campus communities.”
Governor Newsom is expected to announce that teachers and other school employees must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. School districts in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, and Long Beach have already implemented such policies. The state's largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has required weekly COVID-19 testing, but stopped short of mandating educators be vaccinated.
These mandates extend beyond schools in California. Governor Newsom recently announced that California state workers, health care workers, and workers in high-risk settings must show proof of vaccination or adhere to weekly COVID-19 testing and other safety protocols (such as complying with current mask mandates from the California Department of Public Health). The governor is encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same.
If you are considering implementing a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for your school or college, feel free to contact our office to help you navigate any possible legal obstacles.