California community colleges begin to mandate vaccines as COVID-19 cases surge

Los Angeles Mission College offered cash incentives for students who agreed to be vaccinated on July 21, 2021. Photo by Matthew Reagan Credit: Matthew Reagan

Prompted by an increase in COVID-19 cases across California, more of the state’s community colleges are announcing that they will require students and employees to be vaccinated against the virus this fall.

The Los Angeles Community College District, the largest in the state, approved a policy Wednesday that requires students and employees who will be on campus at any of the district’s nine colleges to either be fully vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing. The policy is expected to take effect within two months. The board of trustees for Cerritos College in Los Angeles County approved a similar policy late Wednesday night that will take effect Sept. 30.

The Los Rios Community College District, which has four colleges in the Sacramento area, this week approved a stricter mandate that will require all students and staff to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 unless they have a medical or religious exception. If students aren’t vaccinated and don’t have an exception, they cannot attend any classes or events on campus but can take classes online.

Others, including the Peralta Community College District, based in Oakland, and Long Beach City College, have also recently announced vaccine requirements for students or employees. At Long Beach, anyone not vaccinated will be required to be tested weekly.

So far, at least 29 of the state’s 115 in-person community colleges have announced some form of a vaccine requirement for this fall. More colleges, such as Compton College and the City College of San Francisco, will take up the issue at board meetings later this month.

Unlike at the University of California and California State University, there is no systemwide COVID-19 vaccine mandate for California’s community colleges. The statewide chancellor’s office overseeing those colleges has urged the 73 districts that operate the colleges to implement mandates. Local college leaders and the locally elected district boards have the power to determine whether to require vaccines.

Los Angeles Community College, Los Angeles

In interviews, community college presidents and district chancellors said the highly infectious delta variant, which has fueled a surge in COVID-19 cases, pushed them to move forward with those mandates.

At the Los Rios district, administrators had been anticipating “some sort of vaccine requirement” for months, but because they are planning to hold many classes online this fall, they thought they had “a little more runway” before they needed to implement a mandate, Chancellor Brian King said.

“And then the delta variant completely accelerated the need to take action sooner,” he added. “That has been the game changer along with the infection rates and hospitalizations and tragic deaths of the unvaccinated. So there was an urgency to protect our students, faculty and staff. And this was the obvious step.”

The four colleges in the Los Rios district will be covered by the mandate: American River College, Cosumnes River College, Folsom Lake College and Sacramento City College.

There had also been “isolated conversations across campus” for the past several months at Cerritos College about possibly requiring a vaccine, President Jose Fierro said.

“I think what brought the conversation to the board was the increase in cases over the last six weeks,” he added.

The Los Angeles Community College District, Cerritos College and the colleges of the Los Rios district now join a number of colleges that have announced some form of a COVID-19 vaccine requirement:

  • Cabrillo College is requiring all students and staff who will be on campus to be fully vaccinated.
  • The San Diego Community College District, home to three colleges, is requiring all students attending in-person classes to be vaccinated.
  • The Grossmont-Cuyamaca district, operating two colleges, is mandating vaccines for all students who will be on campus this fall.
  • College of the Redwoods requires students staying in residence halls this fall to be vaccinated or be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing.
  • The Foothill-De Anza Community College District, which has two colleges, is requiring vaccinations for all staff and students who will be on campus this fall.
  • Long Beach City College is requiring all staff and students on campus to provide proof of vaccination or be tested weekly for COVID-19.
  • MiraCosta College is requiring that all students be fully vaccinated if they will be on campus for extended periods, which consists of being indoors for 15 or more minutes.
  • The Peralta Community College District, which has four colleges, is requiring all employees to be vaccinated.

Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County was one of the first colleges in the state to announce a vaccine mandate, doing so in June.

Matt Wetstein, president of that college, said that at the time he was anticipating similar requirements at UC Santa Cruz and CSU Monterey Bay, the public four-year universities closest to Cabrillo College.


“I was getting to the point of saying, if their students are going to need to be vaccinated and their employees are going to need to be vaccinated, we need to be in a position to do the same,” he said.

As one of the early colleges to implement a requirement, Wetstein brought in outside attorneys to help with possible legal obstacles, including whether it was permissible to institute a requirement while the vaccines were approved only for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.

Wetstein ultimately felt secure moving forward with the mandate, and said he feels even more comfortable now knowing that a federal district judge and a federal appeals court have upheld Indiana University’s own COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

“At the end of the day it’s about, what are you going to do for your employees and students to promote safe operations? This is a much safer way to go for everyone involved,” Wetstein said. “I have a soft spot for our faculty and staff who are going to be interacting with students in ways that many of them haven’t for 16 months. So I just think it’s smart public health policy to take this approach.”

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