Community colleges switch to remote operations as COVID-19 cases surge anew

In light of recent increases in COVID-19 cases, community colleges across San Diego County have announced that their intersession classes and services will switch to remote operations. And several are discussing whether to move classes online for the spring semester.

The winter intersession for most institutions began Monday or starts Tuesday and lasts for four weeks. Spring semester follows right after through the end of May.

Officials with several colleges announced Sunday and Monday that most employees would have to work remotely for at least the first two weeks of intersession. The majority of student classes are being offered online. The plan, they said, is to reopen for in-person operations by Jan. 18.

Among those that released a statement was the San Diego Community College District for its San Diego City, Mesa and Miramar and College of Continuing Education campuses.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our highest priority has continued to be the health and safety of our employees and students,” said Chancellor Carlos Turner Cortez. “In recognition of the current spike in cases largely due to the Omicron variant, the four college presidents and I, in consultation with the Board of Trustees, have decided to have most District employees work remotely for the first two weeks of January.”

Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges also announced a shift to remote operations for the first two weeks of intersession.

Southwestern College in South County, which has campuses in Chula Vista, National City, San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, announced Monday it will move all operations online for the duration of the one-month intersession.

“As we begin 2022, still navigating an unprecedented pandemic, I want to thank everyone for taking care of each other, our students and ourselves,” Southwestern Superintendent Mark Sanchez said.

While most institutions plan to bring back in-person services and courses by the spring, Southwestern College officials said they will send students and employees a survey to gather their feedback “that will inform the decisions the college makes for the spring 2022 semester.”

The colleges did say there were some exceptions, including that essential onsite work will resume and some courses, like allied health classes, would meet in person.

In North County, MiraCosta and Palomar colleges are holding some classes online, but also will return to in-person classes in the spring semester.

At Palomar, the Board of Trustees met Tuesday night and heard a report from President Star Rivera-Lacey about the adjustments to the upcoming semester, which has been pushed back from Jan. 18 to Jan. 31.

“I really want to be clear that I’m putting a huge asterisk at the end of that announcement, because I think one of the reasons Palomar has been so successful in navigating this pandemic is we are vigilant about what is happening,” she said. “We are making data-informed decisions. We are OK with pausing. We are OK with taking a step back when necessary, because again we’re looking for the greater good in being able to serve our students and our community in the best way we know how.”

Jack Kahn, assistant superintendent and vice president of instruction at Palomar, told the board that enrollment is significantly low for the spring semester, with some in-person classes having zero students so far.

The spring semester begins Jan. 24 at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, and the school’s executive management team also met Tuesday.

Kristen Huyck, director of public and governmental relations at MiraCosta, said half of the selections offered in the spring semester will be on-ground or hybrid to meet the goals, preferences, safety and comfort of all students.

All students on campus for an extended time must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they received approved medical or religious exemption, she said.

Their announcements come as San Diego County reported 7,786 new coronavirus cases Tuesday.

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