By Trent Saxton
Feather River College trustee
The pressure for FRC to make a public announcement of fall opening plans is coming from students and families themselves. Are we going to open either in-person or virtually? I think we need (set a date soon to discuss openly) to have the Board of Trustees and Administration, engaging in open (virtual) public discussion. It is a disservice not willingly addressing the issue publicly. Simply saying, “everything will be alright” is not a plan.
I do not believe that the Trustees should sit back and have this decision made for them by the Administration of the college. Rubber-stamping a plan is not taking responsibility or doing the job of an elected Trustee.
I believe Trustees have a responsibility to be a part of the planning dialogue. In order to begin that dialogue, let me state here that I believe we can open the campus and dorms and here is my reasoning.
Consider our remote location, the low number of positive cases in Plumas and surrounding California counties. How many students do we have from Reno? We could “pre-test” each student before admission, mandate PPE on campus, and monitor students with random testing throughout the year.
First, we need to know what concerns the Health Department would have for our opening. The conditions for reopening businesses in Plumas County are in a post below*. Then we need to know what our Academic Senate is planning, how would they ideally restart programs? What are their concerns?
In a given year how many programs (classes) do we teach and what are their class sizes? This data is mandatory going forward. What “nonessential” classes could we eliminate on campus, during this pandemic event to prevent further exposure and lower class size? What core classes would we promote so that a student could complete their program to transfer to a four-year university or college? What elective classes can we adapt to “modified” (a combination) sharing face-to-face and virtual education? We should also consult our Classified Senate for their suggestions and concerns.
In my opinion, we should immediately hire a bio-risk firm to assess the “on campus” virus threat throughout the summer and the fall semester. Purchase a thousand Covid-19, PCR test kits. Let the public know what our intentions are and that we have a plan. One suggested plan is as follows. From “INSIDE Higher ED”
“One approach for fall is to reduce the number of courses being offered to limit on campus density and to prioritize support resources. Schools are considering a variety of ways of doing this, including focusing on core courses or signature experience courses, eliminating low-enrollment courses, and prioritizing courses that can be more easily adapted to multiple modalities. Courses that are not part of the targeted pool are taught online.”
The college would enforce the use of PPE and provide the appropriate safety measures to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of our faculty and staff. We are not going to know if complete reopening is the right decision until June or July. We would open face-to-face instruction beginning on Aug.? the reopening process will begin on Aug. ?.
If we publish a message that we appear hesitant about opening up face-to-face learning, students may choose to attend another college. We should send a positive message.
If we act now with a plan to open this fall, we may see our student enrollment grow immediately. If there were a reoccurrence of the virus, we can state that we are prepared to return online. This will reassure some students who are choosing FRC.
Having to go back on our commitment might make us look bad. We are putting our credibility on the line but we are following accepted safety procedures. We will use empirical data, gathered from the Bio-risk professionals using evidence based testing. We would move forward with as much caution and confidence as possible.
As we approach the fall semester, we would have one “fail-safe” period, to re-evaluate our initial decision. Obviously, a continued outbreak or guidance from state and local public health officials would affect our decision. The safety of students and staff is of utmost importance.
Full campus reopening would include full operations, such as on-campus housing and “to-go/take out” dining services. Some concerns about fall reopening will focus on our older faculty and staff members; they may have underlying health conditions. This will make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Accommodation and mitigation will be necessary for their concerns. We should offer a choice of teaching those “core classes” on and off line to those instructors that are at risk, respecting their comorbidities. More key steps are:
- Can we test and monitor incoming students?
- Do we have an infection prevention plan (esp. older workers)?
- What do we do with students infected with Covid-19… or other common diseases? What is the Triage process?
- Do we have a plan for how to proceed should we face widespread infection among students or staff?
- Not on the county list, but pertinent, will our liability insurance cover student infections. I believe it does.
- Also not on the County list, but pertinent, consultation with both staff and academic senates.
- Does full reopening include large lecture classes, fans at sports events, etc.?
- Will students leaving the area (for sports etc.) need retesting on return?
- Do we allow non-essential travel for staff or students outside of the County once tested? How do we monitor compliance?
- What are the Foundation’s plans for their dorms; will they be cleaned/disinfected prior to the fall semester? Financially, how is the Foundation standing if they remain closed?
The BOT should be involved in this planning. As a Trustee, we should have the opportunity to state our “ideas” and vote yes or no on any plan. We are responsible for ensuring that the lives and safety of the FRC community (students and staff) will be protected. I know that the Board will take this seriously and insist on being fully informed and involved.
While there is much more to consider, I believe we should be participants with the Council on Instruction and the Safety Committee, to determine how FRC chooses to go forward this fall. I would be very interested in hearing each Trustee’s ideas and individual plan. This is my current opinion.
County Health Officer’s Plan:
Types of testing:
Diagnostic or PCR test: identifies people who are currently sick with COVID-19. How it works: This test uses a sample of mucus typically taken from a person’s nose or throat. This test is accurate. It looks for the genetic material of the coronavirus. The test uses a technology called PCR (polymerase chain reaction). Samples go to centralized labs for analysis; it can take several days to get results.
Antibody tests: identifies the people previously infected with the coronavirus. They do not show whether a person is currently infected. This is primarily a good way to track the spread of the coronavirus through a population.
Antigen test: Identifies people currently infected with the coronavirus. It is a quick test to detect active infections. Not used to diagnose disease, but it may be used to screen people to identify those who need a more definitive test.