By SKYE SEIPP
This story was updated on Thursday, May 7 at 11:38 a.m., 2:29 p.m. and 5:56 p.m. to add different pieces of information and reactions to the news.
Fall 2020 classes for the Dallas County Community College District will primarily be in an online-only format, Chancellor Joe May said in emails to students and employees today.
“I understand that you are eager to return to campus, and this decision may not be the one you hoped for,” May said to students. “However, your safety is paramount. With so many unknowns surrounding COVID-19, I believe this is the best decision to protect us all.”
May said the district is making plans for career and technical and nursing classes that require face-to-face instruction to be taught on campus within social distancing guidelines.
Elias Alba, the automotive technology program coordinator, said with the proper protocols in place, they should be able to get back into the lab.
“I definitely think it’s possible if we plan it out and we have the correct guidance,” he said. “As long as we develop a plan that involves social distancing and being able to follow through and clean the equipment and vehicles afterward, I think it’s doable.”
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Carlos Ojeda, the coordinator for the auto body program, said it is crucial to get the students back into the lab. He said Eastfield has a reputation among the auto industry of producing students who are prepared to go right into the field upon graduation.
“We’ve done a great job with the hands-on portion of it where students are coming out of our programs ready to hit the ground running,” he said. “I feel like we’re not going to get the job completely done being completely online …With our lab size, we can actually do both lecture and lab within that space, easily separating everybody at least by 6 feet or more.”
The email to students also said libraries and computer labs may be opened with limited student access.
Librarian Megan Horlander said she is OK with returning to campus in the fall since she is not in the high-risk bracket for catching COVID-19. She said the library has been working on best practices for what opening back up could look like and attending conferences to prepare for this.
“I wanna be there to help our students,” she said. “We’re going to be safe no matter what we do. … We want to offer our students whatever we can give them. But at the same time, we also have to be able to offer them a safe environment.”
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Tutoring services coordinator Anand Upadhaya said tutoring is not included with libraries possibly opening and it will be aligned with what classes are doing.
Biology major John Kwong, who’s taking classes in the fall, said he thinks this is the right decision for the district to make after seeing how the coronavirus can affect people when his brother tested positive. He said it’s good the district is letting students know now when many other universities haven’t made that decision.
“It removes a little bit of uncertainty for the future,” Kwong said. “It was the best decision not to take any chances [of] trying to spread it.”
The one thing he misses about being on campus is the ability to do some in-person science labs but said overall online classes have been convenient. He said it’s not always easy and that some days are harder than others.
“It’s really not that bad,” Kwong said. “You really have to set a plan and make the most of it. Your experience will only be as good as you want it to be. Especially with online courses, you’re practically your own teacher at that point.”
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In the email to employees, May laid out further details as to why the decision was made. He said across the district there are roughly 40,000 students and employees on campus every day. He added that the district would have to screen every one of them upon entering the buildings, which is “not feasible.”
“Due to our volume of students and employees, this approach will not work, so we are exploring models in which people can self-report their temperature and health status on a daily basis before coming to our facilities,” he said.
He also said if local high schools resume in-person instruction in the fall, the district would look at ways to accommodate early college high school students, dual credit and those in the P-TECH programs on campus.
At Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting, a plan to begin reopening campuses in a phased approach with limited access was unveiled. Currently, over 180 employees — not including law enforcement — are deemed essential and are still working on campuses, mainly in facilities. This phased plan would allow for these employees to continue doing their jobs without staggering work shifts beginning on May 18, and if conditions are improving, to begin allowing other employees, like those in financial aid, to start working on campus by June 1.
May said the district has set up task forces to look at the impacts of allowing some employees back on campuses. Considerations would include staggering work schedules, using personal protective equipment, controlling the number of people in a building, ensuring social distancing measures are kept and deep cleaning of the campuses.
Other employees have expressed interest in continuing to work remotely, May said, and telecommuting policies are being examined, especially for those who are more susceptible to the disease.
The board has asked the district to look at options to engage employees and more details will be coming soon, May said.
“The decision to remain primarily online for the fall semester is a difficult one because we know that this ‘new normal’ is not easy on any of us,” he said.
Dean of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at Eastfield, Jess Kelly, said in an email that as of right now athletics in the fall is not canceled.
“There is no word yet but we all will take a patient and appropriate response,” he said. “We will be closely watching the NCAA and other athletic organizations and work closely with senior administration to make decisions based on the best interests of our student-athletes.”
—Harriet Ramos contributed reporting from CTE program coordinators