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Community colleges advocate for inclusion on vaccination list as soon as possible

Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 11:05 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - After being excluded from the groups eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination in phase 1B of Iowa’s rollout, community colleges are hoping to be added to the list as soon as possible.

“We’re here to advocate for our students, staff, and faculty and continue to offer classes in person and are taking a lot of precautions, but like everyone, want to be able to do that more safely and more effectively as soon as we can,” said Emily Shields, the executive director of the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees, or IACCT, which advocates on behalf of Iowa’s 15 community colleges.

IACCT joined other postsecondary education groups — including the Iowa Board of Regents and the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities — in sending a letter in late January to the Iowa Department of Public Health, asking for their faculty and staff who have direct contact with students to be included in phase 1B.

When phase 1B was released, college and university employees were not on it, though childcare and pre-K-12 staff were.

“It wasn’t the news we were hoping for, but not entirely unexpected, given the challenges with filling out vaccines to everyone who already has been identified in those groups,” Shields said.

Shields said community colleges are in a unique position, as a “utility player” in higher education, in part because many of their classes have to be taught in person.

“With a lot of our career and technical education programs, those are things that can’t really be taught online,” Shields said. “You know, nursing only goes so far online. Mechanic only goes so far online, so we’re continuing to offer that stuff in person and just want to be able to do it safely for everyone.”

Shields also noted that some community college instructors also teach the more than 50,000 high school students taking part in concurrent enrollment programs, so she said there can be a crossover with high school teachers, who are included in phase 1B.

That’s one reason the state’s largest teaching union, the Iowa State Education Association, is also advocating for community college staff to be included in vaccination plans.

“Those folks who have concurrent enrollment classes, where they have students coming from other districts, or they have large numbers of young adults in their classrooms, they need to be vaccinated as well,” ISEA President Mike Beranek said.

Shields said she is optimistic community colleges will be included in the state’s next prioritization phase, 1C, which has not been released yet.

“Whether that’s online or hybrid or in person, we’re doing it all,” Shields said. “So we’ll keep that going through this semester and like everyone, just hope that we can kind of move past this as soon as possible.”

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