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Higher education personnel in Washington who work in-person with students need to be included with K-12 educators in Phase 1B, tier 2 of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, according to a formal request made this week by the Faculty Senate of Central Washington University.

In a letter sent to Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday, Faculty Senate leaders explained why higher education personnel with face-to-face responsibilities should be vaccinated during Phase 1B, tier 2, according to a news release from CWU.

“In-person care and instruction are critical for the students we serve,” said Elvin Delgado, CWU Faculty Senate Chair and a professor in the Department of Geography. “Just as in K-12 schools, the success for these bright and promising students can be a challenge, even when they have the in-person encouragement and support of counselors, professors, advisors, and mental and medical health staff.”

Delgado said that infection rates for college-age students (20-39 years old) are much higher than for K-12 students, making vaccinations for higher education personnel all the more urgent.

“These students need the in-person engagement our personnel can only provide safely if they have been inoculated,” he said.

CWU President James L. Gaudino strongly supported the letter, saying that many students who have been isolated during the past year due to the pandemic are coping with a variety of physical and mental health issues, which has caused an erosion in overall student success.

“CWU believes higher education personnel should join the K-12 workforce on the 1B, tier 2 vaccination schedule because the services they provide are critical to the students and communities we serve,” Gaudino said. “Ensuring their safety is vital so they can continue to provide crucial educational resources to the students who need it most.”

CWU experienced a significant drop in retention from fall to winter quarter, with 10% of non-white students and 3% of Pell-eligible students electing not to re-enroll. The drop in retention can be attributed to a decrease in face-to-face learning opportunities.

The university closed campus to in-person learning in March of last year, at the direction of state public health officials. Some hybrid and in-person classes have been offered during the current academic year (about 25%), but state data has shown that the changes disproportionately affected students of color.

About 40% of CWU students identify as people of color, and more than 60% are the first in their families to go to college.

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