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Central Coast community colleges coordinate fall reopening

Cuesta College
Posted at 7:44 AM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-24 12:33:41-04

Summer just started but community colleges on the Central Coast are getting ready for the fall semesters and with California reopening, they’re expecting to have many classes back on campus.

Administrators we spoke with described how excited they were to have students back on campus but have had to work around evolving changes to plan class schedules.

Dr. Jill Stearns, the superintendent and president of Cuesta College, said, “It was a very quiet and lonely year last year, it actually felt like our 2020, 2019-20 academic year never ended.”

Community colleges on the Central Coast hosted hybrid classes before the pandemic, but now they are navigating how to move forward after California's reopening.

Nohemy Ornelas, the associate superintendent and vice president of student services at Alan Hancock College, said, “Our schedule does include online courses as well as remote courses, which students can take via Zoom with their instructors.”

Cuesta and Hancock’s plans are different, but both say they had to plan for fall classes earlier in the year when the tier system was still in place.

Dr. Jason Curtis, vice president of instruction at Cuesta College, said, “That was way back in January and February, so there was a lot of uncertainty and as a best guess, we aimed for 50 percent of the fall courses to have some face-to-face component and the other 50 percent to be fully online.”

State guidance is expected to change between now and the first day of school but as of now, the majority of Hancock’s classes will be on campus.

Dr. Curtis said, “We expect the proportion of face-to-face courses to increase as we move closer to August.”

Administrators at Cuesta said many students have been waiting until the start of term to enroll, so numbers for the fall semester are difficult to project. However, so far, they are lower than they were at the same time last year.

Dr. Stearns said, “We heard from students who were absolutely excited and ready to return to campus and couldn’t wait, and we also heard from students who were not ready, and I hope that you’ll continue to maintain some fully online options that would allow me to complete my degree.”

Cuesta College said they surveyed the students to find out their fall plans and the answers ran the gamut.

According to the blueprint for reopening California, there are no capacity limits for higher education, so a return to normal but in terms of mask wearing and vaccines, schools are faced with a balancing act.

Dr. Stearns said, “As of last week, there are no restrictions on room capacity for higher education in California, so it’s very exciting to think that we’re actually going to have students returning with that opportunity to engage and to rebuild those social connections that they’ve really been missing over the last year and half.”

But the plan to reopen California defers to the CDC on mask wearing.

Ornelas said, “We continue to get new guidance and we will be releasing that in the coming weeks regarding what the protocols will be. We’ve gotten a lot of questions about do we have to be vaccinated, do we need masks, all of those things are still in the works in terms of what those protocols will actually look like in the fall.”

And the plan has a different set of rules for those who are vaccinated and those aren’t.

Dr. Stearns said, “So for summer, we are requiring that students remain masked. As you are very aware, our younger population has had the most recent access to vaccine, so they’ve had the shortest amount of time to get through that process.”

At Cuesta college, we asked whether the students need to wear masks in the fall and administrators said they do if they are not vaccinated, in accordance with the CDC. But they aren’t going to verify vaccine status.

Dr. Stearns said, “We are trusting that our students are primarily adults and hold the responsibility for their health in their own hands.”

Dr. Curtis said, “We’re awaiting further instructions from the State Chancellor’s Office but it sounds like social distancing in the classrooms will not be required.”

At both colleges, we were told custodial staff will disinfect classrooms every day.

Dr. Curtis said, “We have new ventilation filtration systems so that we’re really concentrating on making sure the air in classrooms is as clean as possible, but surfaces and things are probably only going to be cleaned daily.”

Staff and faculty at Cuesta College are expected to be masked and practice social distancing in the fall unless they are vaccinated.

Hancock’s fall semester begins August 16 and Cuesta starts the same day.