After shutting down nearly a year and a half ago when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the San Mateo County Community College District (SMCCCD) is preparing to welcome students back on campuses this fall. The district plans to offer a minimum of 30% of its class sections on-campus for the fall across its three campuses, which includes Cañada College in Woodside, according to Chancellor Mike Claire.
"Ventilation is a strategy, but it is vaccination that is the strategy that is going to protect everyone," he said.
In-person instruction will expand to include courses that are hard to teach online, in addition to courses that have been delivered in-person in previous semesters, according to a June district presentation. Since summer 2020, the district has had about 1,600 students, out of a total enrollment of about 41,000, on campuses at any given time, said Claire in a Sunday, July 25, email. There are certain courses with labs that must be offered in person that resumed as soon as the "most stringent health orders" were lifted, Claire said.
"SMCCCD staff and faculty demonstrated tremendous creativity and flexibility switching to almost 100% online instruction in spring 2020," said Trustee John Pimentel of Menlo Park in a Sunday email. "Now we are searching for the right mix of in-person instruction that produces a vibrant campus environment and readily available student services, balanced with the tremendous gain in accessibility, affordability and convenience enabled by high-quality, online instruction. I reckon the new normal for SMCCCD post-pandemic will be better than before with a robust mix of in-person, on-line, and hybrid instruction. In fact, I believe hybrid operation combined with tuition-free community college and more aggressive engagement in our targeted communities will be our best strategy to correct declining enrollment at SMCCCD."
Student support services, programs and business operations will also return. The district plans to require all students and instructors on campus to be fully vaccinated when the FDA gives the COVID-19 vaccine full (rather than emergency) approval or when the fall semester starts, whichever is later. The district intends to have a more widespread reopening in the spring of 2022 and would require all employees and students be to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 beginning Jan. 3, 2022.
The board will vote on a mandatory vaccination policy at its Wednesday, July 28, meeting. The policy is modeled on the vaccine policy approved by the board of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Claire said.
Michele Rudovsky, the district's director of maintenance and operations, presented the district's reopening plans to the board. She said the air filtration systems in 80 buildings across the district's three campuses are of high enough quality that students can safely occupy them.
The district upgraded from MERV-8 to MERV-13 medical-grade filters and purchased 10,000 N95 respirators in anticipation of reopening, she said. Officials also ordered fans if more air movement is needed in some facilities, and repaired windows.
Trustee John Pimentel described the ventilation systems as "top of the line."
The district shut down in-person classes in March 2020, days before the county announced its shelter-in-place order. Enrollment has dropped 10% since the shutdown, according to the June presentation. The pandemic has had its most dramatic impact on international and low-income student enrollment, the presentation noted.
During the meeting, College of San Mateo staff member brought up concerns that classified staff members have been given differing information about whether the district will be able to accommodate requests to work from home. District officials said they would follow up.