By Juan Calvillo
The Los Angeles Community College District will phase its nine colleges back into limited in-person classes in the fall following the state’s color-coded “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” protocol.
East Los Angeles College’s comeback committee is working with faculty, staff and administration in an effort to decide on which classes will return in person with limited sizes in the fall semester.
Melinda Nish, LACCD deputy chancellor, said colleges will move into the red tier of the state’s blueprint this week. The district is using a combination of the state’s blueprint and colored tier system in its “COVID-19 Re-Engagement Grid.”
Nish said the district will not require anyone to have gotten a vaccination for COVID-19 to return to in-person classes on their campuses. She said that the district colleges would also not require testing to be done for return to in-person classes.
Nish said everyone coming on campus would be checked out following the standard questions of whether the person had been near an infected person or if they were having any symptoms.
All of the precautions of hand washing, social distancing, face coverings (masks) and staying home if the person was feeling sick are going to be followed as well.
Nish said in-person classes and preventative measures like social distancing didn’t mean instructors would not be able to help students. She said the health department was optimistic that if a person gets the vaccine and wears a mask, the need for social distancing will diminish as time goes on.
She said instructors could help students despite not adhering to social distance as long as they followed the other safety protocols.
“If you are working in a lab, and you need to assist a student with something and you are going to get within six feet, you can do that. But you minimize that time and you’re trying to avoid having a 15 minute contact with a person,” Nish said.
She said the district encourages those that are returning to get vaccinated, but that is all they can do. Competitive sports will have their own procedures when returning.
Nish said they would follow what most competitive sports are doing, which means weekly tests and a disclosure of the test results. She said the idea was that if the rules for each tier were followed as well as sanitary precautions were taken, things would progress well.
“So we are trying to make sure that we provide a safe environment, that we bring back services in a reasonable, phased in manner and that we understand that not all people will be vaccinated, but that we will still be able to have a safe working environment and that we believe that the vast majority of our staff and our students will be vaccinated this year,” Nish said.
She said the colored tiers that were being used by the state each had specific rules that needed to be followed when it came to educational institutions. She said for educational programs red tier meant that in person was allowed but was limited. For this tier, programs can resume instruction but at only 25% of operations.
In total the tier system has four levels: purple, red, orange and yellow. Each tier allows for less strict limits on operations. William Boyer, LACCD director of communications and external relations, said following the rules of the colored tier system was imperative.
“These are health orders that, I don’t want to sound too draconian about it, but they do come with penalties. You look at the health orders online, and there are penalties for violating the health orders,” Boyer said.
Nish said the district has heard that Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, feels that by summer, the state should be in the yellow tier. Nish said the district is following it’s re-engagement grid when it comes to deciding who and when people will come back in the fall.
This grid uses the colored tier system to describe how certain courses, departments and student services will return to in-person activity.
The grid explains if the program or class is essential infrastructure, what considerations are needed and how they would be implemented, all according to the color requirements.
Marcellino Morales, chair of the comeback committee, said returning departments at ELAC would have to be discussed before anything was set in stone.
Nish said it would not be common for all departments and people to come back on campus at once, but the decision was to be made locally at the college.
Morales used the example of the social sciences lecture classes being hard to justify returning, as opposed to other programs that required more in-person instruction.
“We know some athletics, we know student services, we know healthcare is on that red tier. With limited space and things of that nature and limited large classroom instructions, under that tiered category it (certain programs) will be more prioritized and they will need to come back to continue student success in those programs,” Morales said.
ELAC President Alberto Romàn said that certain programs didn’t make the cut previously like other “essential infrastructure” programs. He said these programs have had issues due to the lack of in-person classes.
“We have other courses that have been on hold because they weren’t considered part of the ‘essential infrastructure’ yet they require some in-person interaction. We have some other classes that have suffered significantly because of the nature of the course. Just throwing an example, ESL (English as a Second Language) for example. So there are a lot of considerations, a lot of things to talk through in our comeback committee about what it means to come back at 25%, 50% but we do have a committee that is very well represented by faculty, classified staff and administrators. And I think it is well represented by departments as well,” Roman said. In the end the main concern for ELAC and its administration is the well being of the students.
Roman said they were more concerned about the impact the last year has had on students as well as being able to provide these students with the needed classes when they return. He said the comeback committee was focusing on being prepared for the red tier but also for the following tiers.
Nish said moving through the colored tiers was not about replacing online classes with in-person instruction.
She said it was about having the flexibility for both online, in-person and hybrid classes at the district’s colleges.
Roman said a combination of both types of classes would be ideal to fit the needs of students at ELAC.
Nish said the district is encouraging all employees to get vaccinated.
The district’s idea is to let staff know that coming back is about safety and that all facilities are clean and safe for use. She said that staff should understand that as long as COVID-19 procedures are followed, the teaching environments will be safe.
Facilities teams have been tasked with checking all buildings to make sure they are safe and prepared.
Nish said if instructors still have concerns comeback committees at the colleges are part of the preparations being made for returns.
If instructors have ideas, they should express them to the appropriate committee.
Nish said each campus needed to look at it’s level of cleanliness. She said it wouldn’t always be about getting more janitorial staff or cleaning crews to come clean. The idea was to set up a smart strategy for optimum cleaning first.