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Classes at Santa Rosa Junior College will stay remote through the spring

Fearing the coronavirus pandemic will not be tamed by January, Santa Rosa Junior College announced Thursday it will continue to conduct the vast majority of classes online until the school year ends in May.

The announcement by SRJC President Frank Chong, which comes just three weeks into the new school year, dispelled hopes the community college would reopen its campuses in Santa Rosa and Petaluma for in-person classes when the spring semester begins Jan. 20.

“It was very gut-wrenching to make that decision because ... everybody wants to come back,” Chong said. “But I have to make the decision based on science and safety.”

In April, Chong announced that all classes during the fall semester would be conducted online, with a few key exceptions for courses that include some in-person instruction with proper precautions in place.

Chong said it is unlikely the college can mitigate enough of the risks involved with bringing students back to campus by the start of the spring semester to justify holding in-person classes. He said he announced his decision five months before the start of the semester to give both staff and students sufficient time to plan.

“We offer close to 2,000 sections per semester,” Chong said, “so it’s not like we can just turn it on and off.”

Certain technical classes, such as those in health sciences and public safety, have been permitted to meet in person for hands-on instruction during the fall semester, Chong said. The junior college hopes to add to the list of courses offering in-person training during the spring semester, he said.

Jyoti Lewis is a prospective nursing student at SRJC who was eagerly awaiting word on whether classes will be offered either in person or remotely come spring. She said the junior college has pushed back its deadline multiple times this summer to notify applicants whether they have been accepted into the nursing program.

“I feel that it does impact me where it might postpone my graduation date,” Lewis said. That would mean delaying the start of her work as a local nurse, a possibility that she said would be “disappointing.”

SRJC will work with the county Department of Health to make determinations about which classes include in-person instruction, based on the college’s ability to provide protective equipment and keep staff and students physically distanced, Chong said.

Chong said he hadn’t yet reached a decision Thursday about whether the college would hold an in-person commencement ceremony at the end of May, but he expressed doubt about its feasibility.

“We’re holding off until we know for sure we can’t do it,” he said.

Closing the two SRJC campuses for in-person classes for an additional semester will adversely affect revenue. Chong estimated the college will lose about $1 million from sources such as the campus bookstore and dining halls during the 2020-21 academic year. Additionally, enrollment in the first three weeks of the fall semester is down by about 12%, from about 25,000 students last year to 22,000 this fall, Chong said.

Chong said that the junior college is still offering financial aid to students.

“The JC is still there for our community,” he said. “We want anybody who wants to seek out college education to come.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

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