Riverside Community College District campuses may fully open in spring 2021

The Riverside Community College District headquarters on Market Street in downtown Riverside. The districts three campuses have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic since March. (Leo Cabral | Viewpoints)
By Erik Galicia

Students may be allowed back to their respective Riverside Community College District campus by spring 2021, assuming everything goes as planned.

The district’s Safe Return Task Force has outlined a four phase plan for returning to campus, which aligns with the California Resilience Roadmap stages of reopening. Phase D, which assumes the state’s Stage 3 of reopening, fully restores college operations in the upcoming spring.

Amidst possible concerns that the plan moves too quickly, Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac argued the district’s return to on-campus instruction is based on science and statistics.

“We have even invited the (Riverside County) Department of Public Health to review our plan and send inspectors,” Isaac said.

The task force, led by Moreno Valley College President Robin Steinback, was put together at the end of spring 2020 in order to address all possible aspects of a safe return to the district’s three campuses. It was established at that time that all lectures during the fall 2020 semester, designated Phase B of the task force’s plan, would remain online.

The district also decided lab components would be offered in a hybrid mode during fall 2020 in order to ensure students seeking to enter essential workforce jobs meet their required in-person instruction hours.

“The reason we are opening face-to-face instruction this fall is that the government has defined what are considered essential functions,” Isaac said, referring to educational paths that include nurses, firefighters, paramedics, police and Career and Technical Education programs.

Lab components, Isaac argued, allow for a smaller number of students within a larger space in comparison to crowded lectures. He said more lab sections are being offered this fall in order to further reduce the number of students in a setting to between 10 and 15.

“We’re very excited to help students in CTE who require face-to-face hours finish their education and get on with their lives,” Isaac said.

Although athletics and fine arts were not deemed essential, Isaac said the district is continuously seeking ways to change that in order to allow more students to continue their education.

Phase B of the “Safe Return” plan also allows for increased student access to in-person services this fall, though the continued use of online services is highly encouraged. According to the plan, in-person access to support services will only be offered when they are deemed critical to online instruction.

Admissions and Records, Financial Aid, engagement centers, counter services, large workspaces and showers will be opened in a limited capacity for students to use. Computer labs and library computer commons will also partially open this fall. The use of these spaces will be by appointment and there will be information booths set up across the campus to direct students on safety guidelines.

Phase C, which will take place during the winter 2021 term, will allow libraries and learning resource centers to fully open. Isaac assured the plan will dictate everything from where a student stands, where they proceed, and how they enter and exit a building in order to ensure health and safety.

Isaac also said the district’s Allied Health system will coordinate a “check in” procedure during which health workers will ask students’ if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms before they are admitted into buildings.

Pandemic safety guidelines such as social distancing, face coverings and sanitization will be applied throughout each phase of the plan, as mandated by the state. Personal Protective Equipment will also be provided to students who need it while on campus.

“No exceptions will be made in how strictly we adhere to safety,” Isaac said.

The chancellor reported he has contacted Kim Wilcox, UC Riverside chancellor, about a possible partnership that would allow RCCD students access to the university’s COVID-19 testing kits. Negotiations are in process.