Some California colleges decide to offer all fall classes online

Salma Ramirez, of San Marcos, is taking virtual tours of college campuses since real tours are canceled.

An increasing number of California community colleges plan to offer all fall classes online to protect students and staff from the coronavirus. The nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College DistrictSanta Monica CollegeSierra CollegeCollege of the Desert and Santa Rosa Junior College, announced this week most classes will be offered remotely in the fall.

Meanwhile, officials at UCLA plan to give students the option of how they want to attend their fall 2020 classes.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, and maintaining the quality of our teaching and learning programs are of utmost importance for the college,” said Joel Kinnamon, president of College of the Desert, which has about 10,000 undergraduates in Palm Desert. “With an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the college’s service area, combined with the lack of a vaccine and the possibility of a second wave of infections, we felt this was the most prudent path.”

The announcements foreshadow the decisions that other California colleges may end up making, including the state’s 111 other community colleges. (Calbright College is the state’s only online-only community college.)

Many colleges and universities across the country are considering how they will offer classes for the fall academic term, either in-person, virtually or a mix of the two. But only a handful of institutions have decided what they will do, despite growing anxiety from students and families over how these decisions will affect them.

“At a minimum, since we know it might not be possible for some students to safely travel to campus, we plan to offer the option of remote learning at least for fall quarter, even if some classes are held in person,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Emily Carter, an executive vice chancellor and provost to the university, in a message to students.

One thing the UCLA campus can’t guarantee is housing for students this fall because of the need for safety precautions need to keep students safe from the virus. Because of the pandemic and national travel restrictions, university officials don’t know how many students will be able to live in apartments or dorms this fall.

“In normal times, UCLA is able to offer housing to a majority of incoming and returning students,” according to the message. “At this point, it is unclear how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact our operations in student housing and residential life during the 2020-21 academic year and therefore we are unfortunately unable to provide a housing guarantee.”

Officials at Sierra College, in the Sacramento area, tweeted that they wanted to give students as much advance notice as possible, and so decided fall classes would be online-only.

“Making this decision early allows us to better prepare for online learning and gives staff more time to prepare for this format,” according to the college, which has about 16,000 students enrolled. “With the potential for a resurgence of the virus in the fall, students will not have to worry about making an abrupt transition to remote learning.”

However, some classes can’t happen in an online-only setting. Sierra College officials said they will continue looking for alternatives, such as a mix of virtual and in-person classes, to help students complete their courses.

“We understand this situation is not ideal for anyone,” the tweets continued. “But we hope by making this decision early we can prepare better for the fall semester and continue to help our students complete their educational goals as best we can.”

Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, said they’ve been working to find flexible solutions for classes that require labs, clinical experience or other hands-on requirements.

“We ask for your patience and support as we work through these issues,” he said, in a message to students about offering most fall classes online.

Santa Monica College, which has about 26,000 students, decided earlier this week that its nearly 3,000 classes would be offered remotely this fall starting Aug. 31.

The decision to continue online-only instruction through this fall was based on two factors. Santa Monica officials don’t think a COVID-19 vaccine will be available until 2021 and it would be “nearly impossible” for the campus, which is described as “open-access,” to monitor and identify the differences between people who have the coronavirus and those who have the typical flu. The college will also examine where to offer hybrid courses for those classes that can’t move online.

Until they’re able to safely reopen the Santa Monica campus for in-person classes and services, students can continue to access mental and physical health counseling online. The campus will continue its Chromebook laptop lending program, which has given more than 200 students the technology they need to access classes online, and access to the school’s drive-thru pop-up food pantry will continue, said Kathryn Jeffery, Santa Monica’s president, in an email to students.

Jeffery said faculty members and counselors would continue building their skills to help students pursue their academic experience remotely.

“Your instructors and counselors are learning new skills, software and tools so that they can give you the best possible academic experience,” she said.

Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong Thursday issued a statement saying that the college would offer its fall classes online.

“There may be some courses that require in-person instruction, such as those that require hands-on labs and those offered at the Public Safety Training Center.” Chong said.  “Where possible, we will work alongside faculty and staff in these areas to offer in-person instruction” utilizing the college’s social distancing protocols.

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