By late July, Lower Columbia College plans to release a list of “hybrid” classes — those offered as a combination of in-person and online instruction — along with a plan that will allow international students to remain on campus despite a federal ruling Monday.
However, most classes will remain online only for now, officials said, to reduce the COVID-19 transmission risk and put student and faculty health first.
Many colleges around the nation already have announced that they will hold classes online only this fall.
LCC Vice President of Instruction Kristen Finnel said the college is looking carefully at what classes could come back in a partially online, partially in-person format. While the list won’t be expansive, she said the goal is to offer some of the general education courses students need and give students who have difficulty with online learning another option.
“In trying to figure that out, we also need to make sure ... we’re following the proper safety protocols. All of that has to be in place before we can start,” Finnel said.
The college has been holding hybrid classes since May in medical assisting, nursing, machining and welding.
To reopen those labs, students and instructors had to maintain a minimum six-foot separation at all times, wear masks, get screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms and keep a daily class attendance log of all employees, students, and visitors. Everything from class arrival times to bathroom breaks is staggered.
“When you bring more students in you need additional staff members to help with taking temperatures and making sure students are remaining six feet apart. You need a mitigation plan for every single course we bring back. It’s a lot of work,” Finnel said. “That’s why we want to make sure we’re thoughtful in which courses we bring back.”
Finnel said the college’s goal is to post a list of hybrid courses by July 27 so students can have time to register by the Sept. 23 deadline.
And while she said many students have expressed a desire to return to the classroom at least part-time, she said that many students who are parents will have to wait to see what the K-12 public school system does.
“If our students who are parents also have to be home for K-12 children, they might not be able to do a hybrid model,” she said. “We’re waiting to see what K-12 looks like but we also wanted to give students plenty of time to register and try to get their ducks in a row for fall.”
The hybrid courses are also a vital piece of the college’s international program. On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that any international students whose courses were entirely online in the fall would be deported, because they’re technically violating the requirements of a student visa.
Finnel said the LCC International Programs Director Marie Boisvert has been a central part of the hybrid course list discussion, making sure that international students will be able to remain at LCC.
“She is looking at what courses the students need, and we’re building some of our hybrid courses for the needs of international students to ensure they can remain at LCC,” Finnel said.
LCC’s international program has been steadily growing over the past several years, and last year had 33 international students from 11 countries.
Some of those students live in LCC’s student housing apartments. While Gov. Jay Inslee’s higher education reopening guidelines have extensive requirements for dorms, including no-touch garbage cans and staggered bathroom schedules, Finnel said LCC’s apartments don’t fall into the dorm category.
“The biggest challenge is just ensuring that we have really strong mitigation plans behind the scenes,” she said. “The safety of our students is our number-one concern, and we want to make sure we’re doing everything in our power.”
For now, she said, the cafeteria and learning commons will remain closed over the summer. Other services, such as the bookstore and student services, are starting to reopen for a couple of hours each week.
“It’s all by appointment only right now, so we’re slowly easing into that (reopening),” Finnel said.
Instructors are also getting training in COVID-19 safety protocols, Finnel said. As only some classes are returning to in-person instruction in the fall, she said that only instructors who are comfortable and willing to teach hybrid courses will do so.
Those who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or those who would prefer to remain remote will handle the online-only courses, Finnel said.
And the college has continued to order cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and masks for the fall using CARES Act funds, Finnel said. While there have been longer wait times, she said the college has been able to get the quantities it needs.
“When you’re a small campus our faculty understand the students and they know students more individually. We can really give the students the resources they need,” Finnel said.
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