VCCCD Board of Trustees discuss possibility of returning to campus for Fall 2021 semester


Chancellor Greg Gillespie gives an update on COVID-19 to the board and public at the special meeting on Tuesday, March 18, 2020, in Camarillo, Calif. Photo credit: Ryan Bough

By Marissa Roberts

The Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees met on Feb. 8 to introduce a scheduling and operational plan for Fall 2021. Educational leaders are prepared, and cautiously optimistic, to go forward with 50% in-person learning at all VCCCD campuses with contingency measures in place.

Dr. Greg Gillespie, the chancellor of the VCCCD, introduced this item by expressing that this is a “dynamic situation.” These plans are entirely dependent upon the county’s handle of COVID-19 at the time of the Fall 2021 semester.

Gillespie is hopeful that with vaccine availability and personal protective equipment, students can count on a return to some form of normalcy.

The plan introduces scenarios in which conditions are either favorable to return to in-person learning at 50% capacity or not. Unfavorable conditions will result in a retreat to online classes, similar to the transition that students experienced in Spring 2020 when the pandemic first hit.

Because of this uncertainty, class registration for Fall 2021 has been delayed until April 19. Leaders are hoping to have a better understanding of how the pandemic might affect in-person learning by then.

While the document claims that students and faculty will be required to receive and show proof of the COVID-19 vaccine, should it be widely available, Gillespie made it clear that those discussions are ongoing and the county will be accommodating to those who wish to not receive the vaccine.

“There are discussions at the state level, both the governor’s office and the legislature, about perhaps requiring that all education workers (and) higher education employees are required to have the vaccine,” said Gillespie.

Gillespie also added, “Should that be the case, we would have to have accommodations for employees who can’t have the vaccine. They could indicate why, and they could still come to work with masks and the other precautions that would be in place there to protect them.”

Maria Urenda, a Service Employees International Union chief steward for VCCCD, made a public comment on this agenda item to express concerns about the return to campus policies on behalf of employees and students.

“We know that moving forward it would be best if we had a phased-in approach,” Urenda explained.

Screenshot from the VCCCD Board of Trustee's meeting on Feb. 8.

Urenda suggested proper ventilation, PPE, and social distancing measures as well as increasing custodial and health center department staff to keep up with cleaning guidelines and contact tracing efforts as students and employees return to campus.

Preparation for a transition back to in-person instruction during the COVID-19 outbreak has pushed the board to further its’ emergency technology systems on all VCCCD campuses.

Dan Watkins, the associate vice chancellor of information technology at VCCCD, gave a presentation on the screening and contact tracing system his team created.

“We developed a three-step screening process where we have a pre-assessment questionnaire, we have on campus temperature checks and then we have QR code scanning,” explained Watkins. “We were able to leverage our MyVCCCD mobile app which is available on Google and Apple stores. People had already downloaded it and were familiar with it and we were able to quickly ramp it up.”

Fall 2020 data shows that of the 77,713 students and faculty who were screened using the MyVCCCD app, there were 48 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Watkins clarified that most of these cases were from people who never stepped foot on campus. Contact tracing efforts were deployed for cases where people were on-site.

“This work is ongoing and intensive. In fact, I pulled the numbers last night, and just at the start of this Spring semester you can really see the uptick in cases across our community,” said Watkins. “We already have 102 confirmed cases we’ve been tracking through our system across all three colleges.”

For updates and information on Ventura County’s COVID-19 response, please visit their website.