DCCCD initiates return to campuses

Colleges across the DCCCD have begun opening in a limited capacity after closing in March due to the coronavirus. Photo by Skye Seipp/The Et Cetera
By HARRIET RAMOS
@HarrietRamosETC

When Clifford Onwueyi arrived at Eastfield Monday morning for his metal working class, he had to pass through two checkpoints on his way to the T Building.

At the first checkpoint, campus police inquired about the purpose of his visit and asked for his student ID. At the second checkpoint, he was asked for the pass generated by the Appian health questionnaire app on his phone that showed he was in good health and approved to be on campus that day.

Finally, Onwueyi squirted sanitizer on his hands and, with a face mask in place, entered the classroom.

In spite of the extra steps involved, Onwueyi said it felt good to be back on campus and in the auto body lab again.

Most students and employees are still not allowed on campus, but Onwueyi is an auto body major, which is a part of the Career and Technical Education field. Students in CTE programs have begun returning to campuses in a limited fashion to complete labs necessary for their course work.

“It’s kind of an adjustment that many people try to make, because we cannot keep staying at home,” he said.

[READ MORE: More businesses set to open Friday, COVID-19 cases surge in Dallas County]

June 8 marked the beginning of Phase 2 of the Dallas County Community College’s Return to Campus plan. Linda Braddy, president of Brookhaven and interim provost for the district, confirmed in an email that campus presidents and the chancellor’s executive team returned to their offices along with certain faculty, staff and students who have unfinished lab work from the spring.

DCCCD campuses have been closed to students and most employees since March 16 due to COVID-19. Chancellor Joe May said in a June 3 virtual town hall that district officials have given the return to campus a lot of thought. However, most classes in the fall will still remain online.

“The No. 1 goal, obviously, is that we want to be able to meet the needs of students with keeping our employees safe, all at the same time,” May said.
May said the Back to Campus Task Force, which is composed of representatives across the district, is prepared to reverse course if there are unexpected snags.

Rob Wendland, DCCCD general counsel and member of the Back to Campus Task Force, said they were informed by certain “guiding principles” in making plans to return employees and students to campus. They are relying on best practices from federal, state and local authorities.

Some of those best practices include mandatory wearing of face masks, 6 feet of social distancing and the Appian app that all employees and students are required to use every day they come on campus.

Individuals are expected to bring their own masks, but Executive Vice Chancellor Justin Lonon indicated the district has some masks on hand that could be made available on an as-needed basis.

The health questionnaire on the app asks if the user has a fever or other symptoms that could indicate COVID-19. If everything is OK, the app generates a pass that indicates the user is allowed to be on-campus that day.

Another practice is the self-reporting tool found on the DCCCD website that requires employees and students to report to the district if they test positive or are exposed to the coronavirus.

On April 1, The Et Cetera reported that three students had self-reported that they were positive or believed they had been exposed to COVID-19. District spokesman Alex Lyda said as of June 11, no new cases had been reported among students.

“There is zero doubt that we will have more COVID-19 cases of both students and employees in the future,” May said. “That is 100 percent guaranteed. What we’re gearing up for is that certainty that we’ll be managing it going forward.”

So far North Lake, Brookhaven, Richland, Cedar Valley and Mountain View have all had positive cases of COVID-19 on campus in the past month.
The last day a positive case was reported at Cedar Valley, Mountain View and Richland was May 22; Brookhaven’s was May 26; and North Lake’s was June 3, according to the Clery Notices on the DCCCD’s website.

[READ MORE: Alumnae, grade school teachers create connections from a distance]

May said there will be thorough cleaning of any area that someone who tests positive for COVID-19 has been in. Anyone who’s had contact with that person will be notified and won’t be allowed on campus for 14 days. If one student in a class becomes ill, the entire class will be quarantined.

“Any erring that we do will be on the side of safety,” May said.

Wendland said the return to campus is being conducted in phases so district officials can see how the protocols are working on a small number of employees before bringing in more.

“We’re taking a very deliberate, measured, phased approach to returning people to our campus,” Wendland said. “We have an obligation as an institution to meet the needs of the students of the communities we serve. We understand that. We take that obligation very seriously, but we’re dealing with something that’s really also unprecedented.”

Braddy said Phase 3 will begin in July, but it hasn’t been determined which employees will be returning then.

Onwueyi said it was strange at first to see everyone in class wearing masks, and it has made communication more difficult.

“If you don’t listen carefully, you will not hear what [the professor] is saying,” he said.

Onwueyi said remembering to keep 6 feet away from the other students and professors is also a challenge. In spite of the ongoing pandemic, he said none of the students seem worried, and they are adjusting to the new protocols.

“It’s the new life we are now living,” he said.

— Skye Seipp contributed to this report

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