LTCC vaccine policy rankles some student-athletes

Laney Griffo

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — In a move to protect what it sees as its most vulnerable population, Lake Tahoe Community College has implemented a vaccination policy for its student athletes but the decision has made several soccer players feel targeted.

During the Sept. 14 board meeting, Superintendent/President Jeff DeFranco announced that all student athletes must show proof of their first shot by or on Oct. 1.

“Lake Tahoe Community College has implemented a mandatory vaccination requirement for students who are in high-interaction environments in off-campus settings, and thus are at potentially greater risk of COVID exposure and infection. Students affected by this vaccination mandate include athletes on LTCC’s women’s and men’s soccer teams, and students living in off-campus housing,” the college said in a statement to the Tribune.

The college went on to say that those populations are at a higher risk of COVID transmission because of the, “frequent and closer interaction with others at off-campus locations where LTCC’s universal mask-wearing protocols may not be adhered to.”

“This is particularly the case with LTCC’s soccer players, who practice and play games while maskless and who share hotel rooms and bus transportation during road trips. LTCC’s off-campus housing students also share common spaces and close living quarters, including double occupancy bedrooms,” the statement continued.

While California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office does not have the legal authority to require vaccinations, but they have encouraged schools to implement a vaccination mandate for students unless vaccines are not possible due to medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs it said in a statement.

“The sooner we’re vaccinated, the sooner we can all return to doing the things we love on and off campus,” said CCC board president Pamela Haynes. “We all play a major role in keeping California safe.”

The organization released a legal advisory to help guide colleges in their decision making process.

Although the mandate applies to all student athletes, LTCC only has a men’s and women’s soccer team, leaving some of the players feeling singled out.

“I feel very targeted,” said LTCC soccer player Madison Evansizer.

The school is requiring all staff to be vaccinated or adhere to weekly testing, the student athletes don’t have the option for weekly testing.

“I’m 100% in favor of vaccinations and believe they are the most effective method for keeping people safer during this pandemic but I’m also 100% in favor of fairness,” said LTCC Soccer Coach Jeremy Evans. “Mandating student athletes to be vaccinated when other population groups on campus aren’t required to be vaccinated, yet these groups will intermix on campus and throughout the community, I can certainly understand why some student athletes and their parents are questioning the fairness of this mandate.”

“I can go to class and am taught by someone who isn’t vaccinated or sit next to someone who isn’t vaccinated,” Evansizer said. “It doesn’t add up, it’s discrimination.”

LTCC has a mask wearing policy on campus and because many students are strictly online only or rarely come to campus, it might not make sense to require those students to be vaccinated.

When asked why the school wouldn’t just implement a blanket vaccine for all on campus students, like many community colleges in California, it responded with a list of guidelines they are enforcing on campus, including mask mandates for anyone entering buildings, single entrance security check-in protocols that include self reporting of vaccine status through an app.

“These actions combined with distancing measures and upgrades to indoor air flow and filtering provide additional layers of protection,” said a statement.

“Participating in athletics or living in student housing are both additional opportunities for our college students. By opting into these programs, students must adhere to additional protocols instituted for their health and safety, and the health and safety of others,” the statement said. “Students who don’t wish to vaccinate can of course continue to be LTCC students and adhere to on-campus mask-wearing protocols.”

The college told athletes in August that a vaccination mandate might happen but the athletes still feel like the mandate came on so quickly and it doesn’t make sense to implement the policy in the middle of the season when the teams have been tested regularly and haven’t yet had a positive test.

The mandate has left the future of the girl’s soccer team unclear. While most of the players are vaccinated, for those who aren’t, they have days to decide. If players decide to receive vaccine by Oct. 1, the second shot would happen a month or so later and the season ends on Nov. 2.

“This definitely divided the team at the beginning but we’re coming together as a family,” said Lainey Altieri-Need, LTCC soccer player.

Altieri-Need is not vaccinated and hasn’t decided what she’s going to do.

“I’ve already red-shirted for four years so I can’t do that again,” Altieri-Need said, adding that she wishes they would continue to allow her to do weekly testing.

She said she might get vaccinated to continue playing but definitely wouldn’t have if this mandate wasn’t in place.

If the school doesn’t change its policy, Evansizer is definitely not finishing the season.

“I’ve been playing since I was 4 and I moved seven hours away from home to play this sport here. I don’t want to quit soccer but I don’t know if there is any other option,” Evansizer said.

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