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College of the Siskiyous president reviews reopening plan during COVID-19 pandemic

Mike Meyer

Face-to-face instruction will resume for half the classes at College of the Siskiyous when the fall semester begins on Aug. 24. This was the news that president and superintendent Stephen Schoonmaker delivered to the board of trustees during its public meeting on July 22.

How the college will bring students and faculty back to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic was the topic of a plan worked on by school administrators and presented by Schoonmaker. It was also the concern of faculty president Michael Tischler in public comments, and the focus of questions from the board.

Public comments preceded the college business discussed in the meeting. Tischler expressed his concern that some students come from across the state and around the country, and would likely bring the virus with them to the campus.

“Local students and employees will contract the virus on campus,” Tischler said. “And they will unknowingly bring the virus into their households.” COS would become “the source of a major COVID-19 outbreak in Siskiyou County ... who will be held responsible?”

Though not directly responding to Tischler’s comments, Schoonmaker described precautions the college will activate, based on the level of the pandemic at the time. Precautions presented by the president affect all campus locations and activities.

The college is using color codes that fit the level of pandemic, from Red (severe restrictions) to progressively less restrictive conditions – Orange, Yellow, and Green (campus open with few or no restrictions).

The levels are applied to 14 categories of activities and locations on campus. Some categories are: Employee Work Locations; Case Management; Classrooms, Labs, Studios, Gym, Sports Facilities, and so on.

For example, for Employee Work Location, the levels, or color phases, are: Red – “Primarily Remote, Essential Personal on campus;” Orange – “Remote workers optional return;” Yellow: “Remote workers transitional return;” and Green: “All work resumes on campus with reinforced environmental health and safety protocols.”

When Schoonmaker asked for questions, the trustees stayed on the subject – how would the college make re-opening work, considering the risks.

Trustee Barry Ohlund asked about distancing and how it would be maintained in the classroom. Schoonmaker answered that because half the classes will be online, there are more classrooms available.

“We’re dividing each face-to-face class into two groups. If a class has 25 students, we split it into groups of 12 and 13, with each group in a separate room. This allows more space for distancing.

“Each day that the class meets, the instructor faces one group or the other. The session will be Zoomed simultaneously to the group in the second classroom.”

Ohlund asked how sports would be handled.

“We’ll have no fall sports,” Schoonmaker said, citing an announcement from the California Community College Athletic Association last week. “Fall sports will begin in January, 2021, and spring sports will start in April, with playoffs in June.”

Trustee Carol Cupp asked how isolation would work for a student, instructor or staff member who comes down with the virus.

“We’ll be working closely with county public health. They have trained trackers to find out what the potential for spreading is with that person. People will be isolated, we’ll do thorough cleaning for five consecutive days, we’ll work to suppress exposure on campus.”

Cupp asked about isolation for a student living in the Lodge (campus dorm).

“We’re now changing from triples (three students per room) to doubles, and are looking at all singles. With singles, a person could effectively isolate from others,” Schoonmaker said, then argued that what is needed is to prevent the illness. “We need the culture on campus to be one of wearing the mask when inside.”

Another question was, who will enforce the precautions.

“Wearing a mask is everyone’s responsibility. We’re going to make it commonplace, like wearing pants.” In a later interview Schoonmaker talked about getting the word out to all who come on campus, making the “3-Ws” the culture on campus.

“We’re planning an open house to share information with the students. We’re pushing the 3-Ws: Wear a mask, Watch your distance, Wash your hands. We’re gonna blanket the campus with the information as much as we can.”

“It’s about setting examples,” added Dawnie Slabaugh, director of public relations. “We’re modeling the behavior. It started with the facilities crew last spring when the campus closed. We always saw them wearing face masks because they were moving around the campus and interacting with others.

“Then two of our employees got COVID (in June), and it suddenly became real for everyone. We made it campus policy,” Slabaugh said, adding, “We’re really doing it!”

Schoonmaker was also asked about the precaution for travel outside the county. The plan is that people will be required to self-quarantine for several days when they return.

“Whoever it is, employees or students, they must test negative for COVID before they can return to campus. But, before a person can even be tested, they are required to incubate for five days after they return. This allows the virus, if they have it, to show up on the test.

“When you’re cleared, you can come back.”

Self-monitoring and logging are also part of the plan. Schoonmaker said everyone will be required to log their activities on days they come to campus, using ProtectWell.

“It’s working well now. We have a form that people fill out that lets us know where they’ve been, and where they’re going on campus. When the semester starts we’ll use the ProtectWell app, which is basically the same thing. Students will be required to log in and enter their data on campus days.”

The precaution level the college goes to will be based on the current status of COVID-19 on campus, or as declared by the County Health Department or state. Schoonmaker said the administration is in close contact with the country health department .

The administration started the planning during the spring. “It is still in progress,” Schoonmaker told the trustees. He added that the governor is expected to release guidelines for higher education in the next week or so.

“We’re not sure what they’ll have in them, but we’ll comply or exceed the standards.”