In late March when Mesa college shut down under the statewide stay-at-home order, there was only one way to close. "We all left campus like the place was on fire," said president Pamela Luster in a live-streamed forum held April 23.
But re-opening is different. There are way more options. The worst is open and shut. "We may have to shift again in the middle of the semester" if there's a spike in cases, she said.
Over 200 students, faculty and staff listened in and offered comments, eager for answers and a return to campus. Anything but the bewildering fog of uncertainty.
(See updated release that came out after story deadline here.)
As colleges look to reopen campuses, it's not all post-coronavirus planning. The possibility of future battles with Covid-19 can't be ignored. Last week, the nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District, Santa Monica College, College of the Desert, and two others in Northern California announced that most classes will be held online in the fall.
San Diego's four community colleges, which teach many of the healthcare workforce skills needed during the outbreak – courses not easily taught online – are on the fence.
Constance Carroll, the chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, said last week that they hope to make a final decision about the fall semester "no later than July 31."
Decisions about opening campus for fall classes "are made in conjunction with all the rules that are out there," Dr. Luster told the online gathering. That is, by following county, city, state, and federal rules, along with the advice of experts in their district.
Those rules and guidelines have taken so many twists and turns since the outbreak began, it's hard to read a clear path.
The decision to reopen is made at the local level, not by the overall system, says Christina Jimenez, spokesperson for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
County spokesperson Craig Sturak says the county’s role has not yet been determined. "What will likely happen is the Governor and/or the California Department of Public Health will outline guidance or criteria for colleges and universities. As we have seen with other areas, that could include involving local health departments in planning or reviewing plans."
But it still isn't clear what the county's role will be, he said.
To get around making plans only to have them upended, the district is trying to build in flexibility – the vice president of instruction, deans and chairs "looking at a continuum" that stretches all the way from a happy return to campus "to none of us can be here and we have to be completely online. And everything in between."
All four community college campuses are planning for both on-campus and online options. The district is weighing hybrid classes that would be online but also allow students and teachers to meet in-person, as well as shortening the academic term to 12 weeks.
Ifs and maybes abound. Fall sports are an unknown. Commencement could include inviting students back in 2021 to walk through the ceremony, and an in-person graduation might be possible in December or January – if large venues are allowed then.
Can they modify spaces to be safe? Could they have students in labs, but not as many at the same time? And wearing masks and personal protection gear; is any of that even possible? "We don't know yet."
What is known is that state budget cuts will leave next year's catalog a whole lot thinner. Over 400 classes will be cut. A fall schedule is being planned, and the summer schedule is out, she said.
"Right now we are erring on the side of online for summer."