Preparing to re-open this fall

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From assessing space at facilities on campus in order to set social distancing guidelines, to developing plans to clean rooms between classes, community college leaders meeting remotely this week shared their plans for the summer and fall as colleges prepare to start at least some in-person classes this fall.

Several community college presidents made presentations on Monday during a joint meeting of the boards of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the Association of Community College Trustees, which are holding virtual meetings weekly to share information and strategies in addressing the myriad issues affecting their colleges due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Ohio will keep classes online for the summer, with the exception of certain career and technical education (CTE) classes that require specialized equipment and training, said President Alex Johnson, who also serves as AACC board chair. Over the summer, the college will map classroom and campus facilities to determine space allocations for proper social distancing so that a schedule for fall classes can align with guidelines and proper spacing for students and faculty, he said.

Tri-C also is looking to offer a modified schedule that will limit the number of students in the classroom and allow time to sanitize between classes, said Johnson, who noted that all plans depend on regulations set by public health agencies, including cleaning and testing for COVID-19.

Opening CTE classes

William Serrata, president of El Paso Community College (EPCC) and AACC board chair-elect, noted that it is important to heed to local, regional and state guidelines regarding closures and regulations. In Texas, businesses have started to reopen but schools are closed through the academic year, which ends and the conclusion of the summer session, he said.

In the case of some CTE classes, EPCC will open on May 18 with smaller classes and strict protocols in place for personal safety and cleaning, Serrata said. It will hold summer sessions online, he said, noting that the college has seen an 11-percent decrease in enrollment.

Employees who typically work on campus in frontline positions have been retrained and deployed to reach out to students to encourage them to register for summer classes, Serrata said. EPCC is working to obtain personal protection equipment for students, faculty and staff and will reduce class sizes for the fall semester. Its plans include a hybrid approach with instruction held online and in class, Serrata said. In-person class time will be staggered to limit the number of students in a room, and custodial services will clean rooms between sessions.

Continued faculty training

Maryland’s Anne Arundel Community College is planning under the assumption that things will continue to change in the coming months, according to President Dawn Lindsay. With that in mind, the college determined that summer classes and the first section of fall classes will be held online, she said, adding that it has invested in training for faculty to use technology in order to convert to online instruction.

AACC hosts a free webinar on May 8 featuring community college leaders’ strategies and considerations for planning as the nation looks toward re-opening in the wake of the pandemic.

When on-campus classes open, Anne Arundel will set up classrooms and labs to comply with social distancing and cleaning protocols, Lindsay said. The college is already adhering to strict cleaning methods, including using door tags to notify custodial staff which rooms need to be cleaned. Lindsay noted that her college in mid-March created an emergency management group that meets frequently to address current issues and to plan for reopening.

Critical communication

Communication has been vital for all members of the college community at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), said President Anne Kress, who provides a daily update to all faculty, staff and students that outlines operational changes. Enrollment for summer is slightly higher than last year, which she attributed to outreach and communication.

NOVA has developed a list of assumptions that allows it to plan more effectively and to provide updates based on changes to the assumptions, said Kress, who is co-chair of a Virginia Community College System task force to examine how its colleges can better serve students, businesses and other stakeholders when the pandemic subsides. Those assumptions include information on shelter-in-place orders from the state, cleaning protocols and more.

NOVA will continue to remotely run its summer programs and services, as well as most fall classes, Kress said. CTE courses that require in-person instruction will be held in the fall, with proper social distancing, cleaning and limited access to facilities, she added.

Kress stressed the importance of working with faculty leaders to ensure that remote learning is successful for both faculty and students, noting that NOVA continues to provide training for remote teaching and teleworking. The college is using federal CARES Act relief funding to retrain staff who work in frontline jobs and for faculty training.

About the Author

Martha Parham
is senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.