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Board members vote to consider mandating COVID-19 vaccine before winter term for on-campus classes.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The board of directors at Portland Community College may reconsider this week an earlier edict from the college's president allowing students to attend classes at the institution's many campuses, including in Newberg, without have first be vaccinated against COVID-19.The board of directors for Portland Community College is likely to vote Thursday, Aug. 19, on whether to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for students and staff returning to campus.

The college announced in June it would not require vaccines to return to campus this fall, but PCC board member Dan Saltzman said that decision was made unilaterally by PCC's president, Mark Mitsui, without input or a vote from the board of directors.

"At our July meeting, we had over 25 health officials, residents and legislators testify that that was the wrong decision," said Saltzman, a Southwest Portland resident who is also a former Portland city councilor.

He said with Oregon setting records for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations — a surge experts say is fueled by the far more contagious delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 — it's time to re-evaluate that decision.

During a special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 10, the PCC board approved a motion to revisit the COVID-19 rules for students and staff.

"I am advocating vaccinations of students, staff and visitors starting in fall. That has been my position," Saltzman said.

He added that Mohamed Alyajouri, a Beaverton resident who represents Zone 6 and currently chairs the PCC board of directors, "has been drafting a resolution for us to see."

Saltzman said he's advocating that PCC require the vaccines before the start of the winter term, to give everyone time to complete their appointments.

Oregon's public universities have unanimously said they will require students and staff on campus this fall to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

However, nearly all community colleges in Oregon have announced they won't require the same of their students and staff.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Portland Community College's board of directors will discuss a policy mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all staff at students. One notable exception? Lane Community College, which announced July 22 that it would require vaccines for on-campus classes and work.

"All of us are eager to put the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us and come together again in-person as a campus community," Lane Community College President Margaret Hamilton stated in announcing her school's policy. "Widespread vaccination is our clearest and best path toward that future. These vaccines have been proven safe and effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and LCC is committed to being a partner in the public health of our region." 

The college said it heard "overwhelming support for a vaccination requirement" from the college's students and employees.

Saltzman said community surveys conducted by PCC indicate 77% of PCC staff and students also support a requirement.

The decision to take up a vaccine mandate won support from the board — but by the narrowest possible margin. The resolution was added to the Aug. 19 meeting agenda on a 4-3 vote.

Saltzman said there are concerns about equity and racial disparities regarding access to the vaccine. But he said those disparities are declining, and the stakes are too high not to require vaccination.

"I think a lot of the initial decision making by the president and his decision-making team was all done pre-delta variant," Saltzman said. "The world has changed as we know it, and it's a lot more lethal and transmissible. I think we need to do this to protect our staff and students, and more importantly, their children. Now that we know you can have the vaccination and still transmit COVID to your children, it's a terrible specter. I believe we have a responsibility to protect (our community)."

If the board votes to require proof of vaccination, exceptions will be made for those who cannot receive the vaccine due to medical reasons.

Portland Community College is one of three major community colleges in the Portland metropolitan area, along with Clackamas Community College and Mt. Hood Community College. Those colleges have also said they won't require proof of vaccination for students and staff.

"A vaccination requirement could be a barrier to accessing educational opportunities," said Annette Mattson, chair of Mt. Hood Community College's board of education. "The college has safely navigated the pandemic so far by following our board approved plan for people on campus, which follows CDC guidelines."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a quote from Mt. Hood Community College's board chair. Angel Rosas contributed to this report.

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