Los Angeles, CA, (October 5, 2020) LA TIMES
Students attending Coast Community College District schools won’t have to worry about parking passes or commuting to class, at least for the foreseeable future, as district officials recently announced distance learning will continue through spring semester.
In a video message delivered Thursday to more than 40,000 students enrolled at Orange Coast, Coastline and Golden West colleges, CCCD Chancellor John Weispfenning said a decision had to be made to give faculty time to prepare spring semester plans.
"Unfortunately, the threat from the COVID-19 remains with us," Weispfenning said. "In the current environment, the only safe path for spring 2021 is to continue online instruction and support services, with limited exceptions."
"The steps we take toward returning to campus will be measured and deliberate, with health and safety in mind, so that we can avoid the problems experiences by higher education institutions across the country," he continued.
College campuses closed in March, forcing students to finish the school year remotely. In May, district leaders made the difficult decision not to resume in-person learning in the fall semester.
Now, with Orange County coronavirus cases holding steady — 120 new infections were reported Monday, the county’s 28th day in a “substantial transmissions” category set by the state — officials maintain health and safety are top priorities.
"The writing was on the wall," Tim McGrath, president of Golden West College in Huntington Beach, said Monday. "There’s so much uncertainty about how to hold classes, we just thought it would be best to start [spring semester] virtually."
Leaders of the three campuses are communicating the news to students whose educational or living plans have been put on hold by the continuation of distance learning.
Meanwhile, reports of infections throughout the district are steadily trickling in.
Coast Community College District spokesman Erik Fallis reported Monday 15 district employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, 10 of whom reported not having been on campus or district property the week prior. Contact tracing has been implemented for the other five cases.
Another 25 employees who reported being potentially exposed either tested negative or self-quarantined without a test, according to the district. One employee’s status was still pending.
Among 40,596 students enrolled in CCCD schools, Fallis said 33 reported either a positive test or possible coronavirus exposure, though the vast majority of those reports came from students who have been learning online. So far, no reports of transmission on campus or of fatalities or serious disabilities stemming from COVID-19 have been made.
Some allowances are being made throughout the district for students enrolled in work certification programs and courses considered essential, or where limited in-person lab coursework is required for completion.
Students in Golden West’s criminal justice, nursing and automotive programs may receive some face-to-face learning, with masks and distancing required, according to McGrath. Orange Coast College President Angelica Suarez said exceptions will be made across 13 programs on the Costa Mesa campus, including radiology, aviation, construction and cardiovascular technology.
"Our faculty are so creative and innovative in looking for solutions that allow students to have certain experiences, even if they’re scaled back," she said.
Measures are being taken to support and protect students who have been living on campus since OCC opened its 814-bed student housing complex, the Harbour, last month. The student health center is open with limited hours, and a food distribution program offers free groceries to students in need.
The Harbour is about 50% occupied. Dr. Madjid Niroumand, vice president of student services at Orange Coast, estimated about 360 students moved in fall semester, while another 50 or 60 are anticipated in January. Those who meet certain income criteria may be able to reduce their monthly rent by $400 through the school year.
"We’re working on a campaign to help students with a financial need stay at the Harbour," Niroumand said, indicating reductions would be made possible through the school’s annual Pirates’ Promise program.
Suarez said leaders are doing what they can to make learning meaningful while keeping everyone safe.
"I know it’s not the same. We love being on campus — that’s who we are,” she said. “But we’re making the best of the situation and want students to know we’re here to support them."