Spring semester remains online

Courses will be remote through summer


Krys Shahin

Staff and students packed the lecture hall to express their concerns and confusion about what was happening due to the COVID-19 virus during the emergency Academic Senate meeting which was held on March 11.

Krys Shahin, Editor-in-Chief

The remainder of the spring 2020 semester at Los Medanos College and within the Contra Costa Community College District will continue with instruction and services delivered remotely, and most students will not return to campus for face-to-face classes until fall. 

The announcement was made by Interim Chancellor Gene Huff April 8 in an email to all district employees. 

In the email, Huff outlined that the district will continue to “monitor the Contra Costa Health Services’ directives, as well information coming from the state,” and will continue to adjust accordingly.

As remote instruction continues through the rest of the spring semester, the following will occur:

  • Finals will be conducted remotely.
  • All students will be given the option of changing their grading preference to pass/no pass, or P/NP, for all classes, with a new drop deadline of  May 15.
  • Spring classes that cannot be completed virtually or remotely can be extended to June 30. 

“While the last couple of weeks was largely spent trying to figure out how to just get things done on a day-by-day basis, leadership realizes that a lot more training and professional development needs to be made available,” wrote Huff. “Working together, it’s certain that we can rise to the challenges and deliver the support our students need.”

Along with these continuations, all operational support activities and all student and instructional support activities will continue to be provided remotely.

Because the campus is still closed to students and staff, graduation will now be planned to be online or held virtually in some way. The summer semester will also be conducted through remote instruction only.

Chronology of the response

The district’s final decision to close campuses was a result of conversations that started in January when concerns about the novel Coronavirus began to appear in the United States. 

The first mention of action to be taken at Los Medanos College was during the Opening Day meeting for staff Jan. 24, when Police Chief Ed Carney answered questions from staff members about the preparedness plan the campus was going to follow if the COVID-19 virus came to our state and county. 

Starting in the beginning of the following month though, on Feb. 6, district Director of Communications and Community Relations Tim Leong sent an email outlining what information was available about the novel Coronavirus to all district employees. The district had then set in place an emergency preparedness plan in the event the rapidly developing Coronavirus affected anyone within the area. 

According to LMC President Bob Kratochvil, his office purchased large hand sanitizer bottles that were then placed in “high trafficked and frequent areas on campus.” Along with this move, LMC began placing fliers and signs throughout campus  about the Centers for Disease Control recommendations on ways to prevent getting the virus. 

Just a month later, on Feb. 25, the very first case of the COVID-19 virus in Contra Costa County was diagnosed, and that is when informal talks began at the district level during a regularly scheduled cabinet meeting, according to Huff. 

Informal talks about concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus were also had at the Feb. 26 Shared Governance Council meeting at LMC, according to Kratochvil. And at the district Governing Board meeting held the same day in Martinez, formal conversations at the district level about this virus began to occur.

Local media began taking note of the real potential of the virus spreading around the county  March 2, when the county put out a press release about the virus. According to Huff, this press release encouraged the district to meet March 4 and 5 for formal talks about the potential spread of the illness in our college communities. 

The district, along with other schools in the Northern California Study Abroad Consortium, responded to the virus outbreak in Europe by bringing home all students and staff studying abroad in Italy, March 5.

A second email from Huff was sent out March 10 to announce that the district was “curtailing all non-essential travel for employees and students.”

The next day, March 11, the Academic Senate met at an emergency meeting at LMC where many concerns were expressed by staff and students about decisions being made regarding the COVID-19 virus. 

A press release announcing additional guidance to each location within the district was released March 11 which explained that each guidance was “effective immediately, and through April 30, 2020, unless otherwise noted.”

Huff sent out another update via email March 12 that explained decisions made by district management and each of the college’s Academic Senates to transition all face-to-face lectures to remote instruction from March 16 until further notice. 

Some K-12 schools closed and suspended instruction on March 13, which then caused the district to have an emergency consultation meeting, according to Huff. 

According to Huff, as of March 14,  Gov. Gavin Newsom was urging schools, K-12 and colleges, to stay open around this time so the “[district was] working under the assumption that K-12 districts were going to remain open to a large degree… Then we saw Los Rios on that Friday announce that they were going to be more aggressive to their transition online.” 

These announcements prompted the district to hold another emergency meeting in which they realized that “it was inevitable that we were going to end up going to go 100 percent remote,” said Huff. “Saturday night [March 14] we made that decision and Sunday morning [March 15] we reaffirmed it and started drafting the communications and began working on detailed plans.” 

Huff sent out an email March 15 announcing that the district would “move all classes to remote instruction, including lab and activity classes, as well as student, instructional and operational support work to the extent possible.”

Classes were suspended Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17, to allow teachers to prepare for all instruction transitioning online. Furthermore, on March 16, when the campus was closed to students, the county put out a press release declaring a shelter-in-place in the county at midnight “to ensure that the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling essential services to continue, to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the maximum extent possible.”

Campus was closed to all non-essential employees by March 18 and Huff released another statement outlining that the guidance for remote instruction would last through April 7, which is when the shelter-in-place order was meant to end. 

“In a matter of days, less than two really, all our lives have been turned upside down, personally, socially and professionally,” Huff wrote. “But, something that sets us apart from many of our friends and neighbors is that we have a mission that carries on; helping our students meet their educational goals and needs.”

From March 18 through March 25, the district and each campus held various meetings to further discuss their plans for the remainder of the semester. They also took the time to update their websites, to provide students and staff the most up-to-date information available. 

Each campus added new live chat features to answer questions, FAQ pages and outlined online resources on the website for students and staff to take advantage of. 

The LMC family once again has shown its strength and resilience in a time of great adversity.  Faculty, classified professionals, managers, and students have all stepped up in ways that can only be described as heroic,” wrote Kratochvil in an email labeled Thank You sent March 25. “All of you have done a tremendous job of continuing the community college mission and, to the best of our combined abilities, ensuring the continuity of our students’ educational pursuits.”

Contra Costa County then declared an extension to the shelter-in-place order March 31, extending the date until “at least May 3.” This announcement resulted in the district holding a meeting the same day to discuss what would happen for the rest of the spring semester. 

The Academic Senate met April 6 online in another emergency meeting to discuss plans for delivery of instruction for the remainder of spring semester, as well as for the summer and fall 2020 semesters. This resulted in the decisions announced today, April 8, that the remainder of the spring semester and the entire summer semester will be conducted through remote instruction as well. 

College Assembly tomorrow, April 9

There will be an online College Assembly meeting April 9, from 3 to 5 p.m. where college leadership will “share details on the decisions emerging from Consultation Council and provide updates on LMC/District responses to the public health emergency,” according to an email sent out by Kratochvil April 6.