In January, I wrote a letter to John B. King, Jr., chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY), to address a concern raised by students taking classes in the New York State Pathways in Technology (NYS P-Tech) program. Despite a number of COVID requirements and mandates finally being relaxed, there remain a number of students at risk of being removed from the program due to inconsistent rules still governing students and teachers.
At the heart of the issue are students in high school who are engaging in hands-on learning programs at a P-Tech partner college that still requires students to be vaccinated. There is no mandate for K-12 students, nor faculty at the colleges hosting P-Tech programming, yet students in high school who have decided not to get vaccinated are at risk of being forced out of this successful program due to inconsistent rules.
Teachers are allowed to be on campus without vaccination. Students are allowed to be in their traditional classrooms without vaccination. But P-Tech students at Onondaga Community College are required to be vaccinated by April 1 or be removed from the program. What is the logic here? Unfortunately, I have not received a response from the SUNY chancellor, and the situation continues to lack clarity for students with less than a month before the deadline hits.
The P-Tech program is an integral part of the state’s workforce-development initiatives. Students are given an opportunity to earn an associate degree in applied science in high-tech fields, and they are able to do so with little or no costs incurred. This program, for many students in my district and other rural areas, offers an opportunity to make competitive wages directly out of high school. These students go on to take jobs in fields sorely lacking available human resources, and they are able to do so without taking on the hefty student loans others are saddled with upon graduation from a traditional four-year university or college.
Disrupting these students’ education and contributions to their communities over inconsistent vaccine policies hurts both the students and the local economy. For this reason, I am hopeful the chancellor can develop an exemption program for students in this unique position.
I have heard from a number of individuals in recent weeks who have expressed serious concerns about their status in the program, especially as deadlines to provide proof of vaccination are quickly approaching. The onset of COVID-19 was something unlike many of us have ever seen, but too many policies in New York have not accounted for waning strains of the virus and the natural immunity many have developed in the past three years. There is no reason students who choose not to be vaccinated at this time should face a disruption in their education, and I sincerely hope the SUNY system finds a way to remedy this unfortunate situation soon.
William (Will) A. Barclay, 54, Republican, is the New York Assembly minority leader and represents the 120th New York Assembly District, which encompasses all of Oswego County, as well as parts of Jefferson and Cayuga counties.