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UNR, TMCC forced to drop vaccine mandate for students

By Bob Conrad

A split vote between Democrats and Republicans yesterday means the University of Nevada and Truckee Meadows Community College have to drop coronavirus vaccine mandates for students.

The Nevada State Board of Health approved an emergency vaccine mandate in August, but yesterday’s vote by the Nevada Legislative Commission failed to make the emergency regulation permanent.

The Nevada System of Higher Education’s legal counsel said the regulation was to add COVID-19 vaccinations to NSHE’s existing list of required vaccines.

“Mandating regulations by the Board of Health is not new,” said Joe Reynolds, NSHE attorney. “That has been on the books…I believe for at least over 30 years.”

Republican legislators weren’t convinced the regulation should be made permanent.

State Senator Joe Hardy on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

“We have had a temporary mandate requiring vaccinations to decrease the spread of disease,” said Senator Joe Hardy (R-Clark County), who is also a doctor. “A permanent mandate will not in this regulation’s verbiage prove our immunity.”

Hardy voted against the regulation.

Sen. Nicole Cannizaro (D-Clark County) called Hardy’s argument a red herring.

“It is irresponsible of us to say that because something is not foolproof that we do not support it,” she said. “We don’t say: ‘Well, seatbelts might not protect you 100%, so let’s not wear them.’ We have seatbelts. We also have airbags. We have child safety seats. We have rules of the road. All those things play into public safety.”

NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose told college campuses to cease the mandate.

“The Interim Legislative Commission met Tuesday, [and the regulation] failed to pass, effectively eliminating the legal basis for student vaccines to be a requirement for registration for classes at NSHE’s institutions,” she wrote in a memo to campus presidents. “Following the direction of the Legislative Commission, any student registration hold based on not having a COVID-19 vaccine must be lifted immediately.”

The decision by the commission means campuses have to reverse course and now allow unvaccinated students to register for classes.

“We are in the process of removing the holds of students’ registrations (who previously had holds due to vaccination status) and sending a communication informing them they have the ability to register for spring classes,” UNR spokesperson Scott Walquist said today.

Faculty and other NSHE employees, however, must be vaccinated or apply for an exemption to continue to be employed by NSHE.

Faculty want virtual instruction again

At least one faculty member posted on Twitter yesterday saying he would be leaving Nevada and applying for a job elsewhere. Other faculty said they want distance education back as an option for faculty.

“Faculty would rather teach fully remotely than have to figure out accommodations for whichever students will need to be absent to test or isolate.”

“The Nevada Faculty Alliance is extremely disappointed in the Legislative Commission’s failure to act today–led by the Republican delegation and apparently fueled by misinformation,” said Kent Ervin with the Nevada Faculty Alliance. “NSHE had been planning for the Spring semester with the expectation that we would be returning to safer, fully-vaccinated campuses and full in-person instruction. Many faculty will be requesting to switch to online classes, which we know is less effective.”

Amy Pason, chair of the UNR Faculty Senate, said remote instruction will now be more efficient.

“Faculty would rather teach fully remotely than have to figure out accommodations for whichever students will need to be absent to test or isolate,” she posted on Twitter. “Less disruption for better education.”

Others said the vote was a slap in the face to faculty who have not received raises for years and to NSHE in general which has suffered millions in budget cuts.

“With the regular process for a permanent regulation by the Board of Health moving forward, we face the untenable situation where unvaccinated students will be allowed to register for Spring classes but then will no longer be allowed to attend if the regulation is enacted,” Ervin added.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, after the commission vote, sent a news release saying the mandate could still be pursued as part of a permanent regulation process.

“Though the Commission did not support early approval, the [Division of Public and Behavioral Health] will proceed with the promulgation process with plans to present the regulations again to the Commission if approved by the Board of Health,” Sisolak said.

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