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Community Colleges In L.A., Santa Monica Say Fall Classes Will Be Online

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The following article was originally published May 5, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

The shift to remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak has been difficult for many community college students — and now hundreds of thousands are being told that online classes will continue in the fall semester.

The nine campuses in the Los Angeles Community College District, as well as Santa Monica College, have already decided to extend online learning into the fall semester, with possible exceptions for classes that are difficult to teach remotely.

"It was easy from the standpoint of knowing that health and safety would prevail," said Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez of the L.A. Community College District, which includes East L.A., L.A. City, L.A. Harbor, L.A. Mission, Pierce, Southwest, L.A. Trade-Tech, L.A. Valley and West L.A. colleges. Together, they enroll about 150,000 students.

Rodriguez and his administrators talked to faculty, staff, and student leaders. They weighed state and national health directives and considered scientific data on factors including when a vaccine may be available, a possible resurgence of the virus in the fall, and the COVID case and death toll in Los Angeles.

Santa Monica College had similar discussions.

One of the college's scenarios for going back to in-person instruction considered social distancing protocols that would limit classes to 6-to-12 students per room.

"It would take up more space than what we have right now," said Santa Monica College President Kathryn Jeffery

So Santa Monica College announced last week that its fall classes would be online.

The authority and guidance to make the decision came from California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, but individual community colleges — or districts with multiple campuses — make the decisions on their own.

For hundreds of thousands of other community college students in the region, it's still unclear whether they'll be learning in-person or online.

Cypress College is one of the many campuses that haven't announced a decision.

East Los Angeles College is one of nine campuses in the L.A. Community College District. | Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist
East Los Angeles College is one of nine campuses in the L.A. Community College District. | Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist

"We've been talking very seriously about it," said Cypress College President JoAnna Schilling.

She said she and her team met on video conferencing "a lot" last week to talk about the different scenarios. Like the other campuses, hers doesn't have the human or financial capacity to carry out socially distanced classes, provide employees with personal protective equipment, and sanitize spaces after each use.

"It just became super-complicated the more we talked about this and we realized even if the state allows people to go back to work, we can't do this in any responsible way," Schilling said.

When the state relaxes stay-at-home rules, she said, the campus will likely allow more employees on campus and install protective plexiglass while allowing limited student access to campus buildings and offices.

The impending decisions by campuses to go online for the fall semester has some counselors worried about students' academics.

"Many of them have expressed how difficult the remote learning aspect is," said Santa Monica College Counselor Sherri Bradford.

With fall semester enrollment opening soon, the challenges posed by remote learning — like access to wi-fi and equipment, finding quiet places to study, and the disconnect some students feel — are likely to factor heavily in where or whether students continue their stuides.

Bradford's college and others say they're leaning on counselors to help students and they're raising money to help students with laptops and basic needs such as food and grants.

The L.A. Community College District said it's been able to raise nearly $2 million in the last seven weeks to help students with laptops, emergency grants, and food.

"I'm really pleased that the philanthropic community has come through during this time," Chancellor Rodriguez said.

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