By SAM METZ AP / Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada’s Board of Regents voted 9-4 on Friday to direct Chancellor Melody Rose to send a letter to state lawmakers, health officials and Gov. Steve Sisolak in support of imposing a vaccine mandate on students enrolled in public colleges and universities in Nevada.
The letter, although non-binding, signals that battles over coronavirus measures are likely to continue for the more than 100,000 students at public colleges and universities throughout the state. It asks lawmakers and officials to reconsider a mandate on students to ensure education at its campuses isn’t interrupted.
“As the COVID-19 virus produces new and unknown variants and a significant percentage of our student population remains unvaccinated against the virus, the Board of Regents finds itself at a critical inflection point in our COVID-19 response. The Board of Regents must address the realities of the ever-changing COVID-19 environment and its impacts on the health and safety of our campus populations,” Chancellor Melody Rose wrote in the letter.
University of Nevada, Reno and University of Nevada, Las Vegas presidents Brian Sandoval and Keith Whitfield spoke in support of the letter and told regents more than 90% of students at their campuses were vaccinated.
After delays and questions about what government body would be responsible for a mandate, state universities began the fall semester without one in effect, allowing students to enroll regardless of their vaccine status. The board of health later passed an 120-day emergency measure requiring students be vaccinated in late August and regents voted in October to mandate vaccines for all college and university staff by December 1.
A student subsequently sued the Nevada System of Higher Education, challenging the constitutionality of the student mandate. And a legislative committee that meets when Nevada lawmakers are not in session voted last month not to extend the 120-day emergency measure mandating vaccines for students.
Requirements remain in effect for staff, but not students at public colleges and universities in Nevada.
Although they have discussed a system-wide employee mandate in several meetings, regents had until Friday not discussed a student mandate publicly, with their attorneys arguing that the responsibility for one falls to the state board of health. Regent Jason Geddes said he would like staff to review their earlier opinion and see if they could pass a mandate without approval from legislators or health officials.
AP reporter Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.
Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.