Lack of unity, procedures leaves in person returns in disarray

Future uncertain for in-person instruction

By: Paul Medina

Many levels of East Los Angeles College faculty and staff failed to reach a consensus on the appropriate actions to take for the return for in-person-classes at the Shared Governance Council meeting (ESGC).
The meeting on Zoom Feb. 22, brought together an array of ELAC personnel who reported and discussed pressing matters pertaining to the college’s governance.
Amongst the several concerns, the topics of COVID-19, vaccinations and mask wearing were discussed.
Dean Paulina Palomino said “some of us would choose to be immunized, some of us would not, but we all have this right for public health and safety.
“We should all feel safe, whether we are staff members or students. I almost feel like it’s not enough to allow for a higher entity to make this decision without us making a recommendation.
“We are a big entity, LACCD. It just does not feel appropriate. I myself am going to be vaccinated as soon as I can,” Palomino said.
Despite the importance of the vaccine in helping to eradicate the COVID-19 virus, there are some personal reservations about the vaccinations.

ELAC’s American Federation of Teachers faculty guild chapter president Michelle Benjamin, who represents faculty’s union rights spoke about how a number of faculty will be opting out from taking the vaccine.
Benjamin said many faculty “have reached out to her in regard to opting out of taking the vaccine. Some of them can’t take it due to medical reasons. Another reason was religious reasons and then personal.”
“The union has not negotiated that at this point, so as I gather further information, I just want to say that it’s an individual thing and we basically stand by faculty based on their preference for vaccination,” Benjamin said.
Albert Roman said that, according to general counsel, a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination would have to be legislated in order to be required.
“I don’t think we can legally require them, but it’s going to be an interesting situation to roll out if it’s optional. As some people may just rather opt out not to get them, the exposure associated with that is obviously huge,” Roman said
Vice President of Administration Affairs Myeisha Strong reported to the LACCD Emergency Operations Center (EOC)/ Incident Command Center (ICC) to clear up confusion about employees returning to work after testing positive.
With existing policies in place, proof of being cleared from COVID-19 is not required. “The district, the college, we cannot require that type of paperwork. It is going to be based off the word of that employee, coming back to campus, and I guess they would also speak to evidence that they are not experiencing or no longer experience symptoms,” Strong said.
Roman stressed how the in-person education shutdown has been greatly felt “by many of our undeserved poor communities. Students have gotten so behind on their education.
“It’s going to be incredibly difficult for them to be able to recover what has been almost a year of education. That has to be balanced again with our ability to come back in a safe manner, where everyone feels that they’re going to be protected.” Roman said.
Student Natalie Sanchez is concerned when in-person instruction returns.
Sanchez said she is concerned whether she will be informed if someone tests positive and if the school is required to inform students if they become potentially exposed.
“I would like to know whether I have been exposed to COVID-19,” Sanchez said.
Academic senate president Jeffrey Hernandez said the district drew from a re-engagement grid based on county and state guidelines to determine whether or not masks would be required.
The grid varies based on the level of spread, certain types of instruction and requires the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Hernandez said that he brought up the concern at the District Senate in the case if a student would not want to use PPE.
Hernandez said he believes the district will end up developing some kind of statement which will allow professors to tell students to leave if they don’t have their PPE, refuse to wear it or are not socially distancing.
“Whatever comes down in terms of the state, county guidelines, those are the ones that we follow, the EOC and the district. So you know some cities have put ordinances in place regarding masks requirements,” Roman said.
A forum will take place on March 12, where ELAC’s students and staff can bring questions to district leaders. Roman said he encourages to be present at the forum to get answers from district officials. The link to register for the forum is http://bit.ly/forum031221
The next ESGC meeting is scheduled for March 29 on Zoom.

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