Report: Community college student’s program access blocked by COVID vaccination status 

Sandhills Community College president addressed report; hands tied by hospital and facility policies

RALEIGH — A report of a student in a community college health education program having her access to clinical sites blocked due to her vaccination status recently surfaced on social media. 

In a thread on X, formerly known as Twitter, Envisage Law firm attorney James Lawrence made the claims that a female student was denied access to the Sandhills Community College health program based on the fact she was unvaccinated.  

“Community colleges in NC are discriminating against students who want to be part of the health care profession because they declined a COVID-19 vaccine,” Lawrence wrote in the thread. “@SandhillsCC denied a spot to a young lady with a medical condition whose doctor recommend against a COVID-19 shot.” 

“This young woman wanted to help people, so she tried to get into a @Sandhillscc health program. The program had a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. So, all she has to do is to provide a letter from her doctor detailing her condition, and she gets into the program, right? Wrong.” 

Lawrence went on to note that clinical rotations at health care facilities in the programs the student was trying to access “regularly grant accommodations to workers, and they have to students too,” but he also said Sandhills had denied the woman entry “not because she could not get into some of the clinical sites, which she could, but because ‘all clinical sites’ would not accept her.” 

“What @SandhillsCC did to this young woman is arguably in conflict with North Carolina law, which requires schools to honor medical exemption requests certified by physicians,” wrote Lawrence, adding that, “Unfortunately, this is not isolated. Other community colleges are blocking unvaccinated students.” 

“They’re not employees of these Healthcare facilities where they’re doing internships. They’re not employees of the school, and yet they’re being denied opportunities,” Lawrence said of the students being denied access to programs in an interview with North State Journal. 

“I do think it’s arguably in violation of state law as it sits right now because under our general statutes, schools have to provide both religious accommodations and medical exemptions.” 

Lawrence later added, “This has a real-world impact, real-world implications for ordinary people who are trying to enter a profession to do extraordinary things that help people. 

“We are, at the community college level at least, erecting barriers to entry into that profession. It’s an unfortunate thing.” Lawrence also noted entities demanding compliance with vaccine mandates “have no corresponding skin in the game with respect to liability.” 

In a brief interview with North State Journal, Dr. Alexander “Sandy” Stewart, the president of Sandhills Community College, addressed the issue. 

Stewart said, like all the other community colleges, “We don’t have a vaccination requirement for admission at all.” 

Stewart was chosen to lead the school in May of this year and was installed as president this past August. 

He described the health sciences programs that Sandhills operates as having clinical rotations at different clinical sites and hospitals.  

“In terms of clinical sites, they do have their own varying levels of requirements, and there’s no consistency across those clinical sites,” said Stewart. “And so some will grant exemptions for students and some won’t.” 

Stewart couldn’t go into details regarding the specific student mentioned in Lawrence’s thread due to federal privacy laws, however, he did say that the school was “evaluating” how they approach the situation “because the vaccination requirements with clinical sites have been a bit of a moving target.” 

“We’re working to resolve this situation,” Stewart said, adding later the school was looking to resolve the issue as the policies of clinical sites and hospitals “continue to evolve.” 

Stewart also said he suspects other community colleges with health programs are facing a similar issue. 

By A.P. Dillon

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