Northwest State Community College will hold in-class instruction this fall, but it will be far from the normal routine.
A 14-member NSCC cabinet made the decision about three weeks ago to open classrooms to students beginning Aug. 19 after consulting with department heads and the Fulton County Health Department. But COVID-19 restrictions will be firmly in place, class sizes will shrink, and students and teaching staff wary of the arrangement will have options to complete tasks remotely.
“We’ve been feeling better and better that we can do face-to-face classes like we have (but) there will be less people,” NSCC President Michael Thomson said.
Some classes may be reduced by half, with fewer chairs in classrooms and each class staggered so that half the students attend one day and the other half a second day. Thomson said instructors and staff members will have their starting times staggered and will be required to wear masks.
Students will not be required to mask up but “will have a strong expectation” to do so, Thomson said. Those who object will have to present a strong, convincing argument.
“Relying on the goodwill of our learners, yeah, people will have facial coverings,” he said. “I want to make sure our place is safe. You’re really wearing that facial covering to help somebody else.”
Protocols will include each building being equipped with a self check-in procedure. Student IDs will be scanned and each person will be subject to a remote temperature check. Each building will also observe social distancing restrictions and undergo frequent deep cleanings.
“We’ll meet all the guidelines,” Thomson said. He said COVID-19 protocols actually started when the college went to remote operations in March but still received students whose continued in-class attendance was vital to their studies.
All campus facilities and operations will be available to students including the campus book store, the library and Success Center, the Advising Center, and the fitness center. Campus officers will remind students to keep their faces covered.
Self-identified vulnerable students and staff members uncomfortable with attending the campus have the option to discuss their reservations with a human resources representative. Thomson said it’s possible, on a case-by-case basis, that they can study or teach remotely, an accommodation the college is willing to make.
“I think we’re going to see a little bit more hybrid working,” he said. He added that those staff members with concerns represent a small group, and “the great bulk of our team will probably be on the premises.”
If everyone wears facial coverings and practices social distancing and good hygiene, the threat of a potential asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier on campus will be lowered, Thomson said.
“Were going to follow the guidelines faithfully. We’re going to keep doing that and keep our people safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, most summer classes will be conducted remotely. Students taking in-class instruction will be limited to three building entrances and will also face check-in stations requiring ID scans and temperature checks.
Thomson said both fall enrollment figures and schedule availability are projected to remain the same, adding, “If you need it, you’re going to get the class.” He said although people struggling through the current economy and some four-year students waiting out a term may be factors affecting attendance, he estimates enrollment will be slightly higher for the year.
Should NSCC begin to register a lot of coronavirus cases the campus could be asked by the county health department to shut down, Thomson said. “So every class is built upon the premise that, at any time, you might have to pivot and go home for awhile, and then when (the college reopens) you go back,” he said.
Despite the spring interruption of classes by COVID-19, 95% of NSCC students last school year completed their studies on time, Thomson said. “We’ve learned that you can get your face-to-face instruction if you need it,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.