SRJC will expand in-person classes but stay ‘largely remote’ in fall

With much unknown about the continued pace of vaccination efforts and the risks posed by mutations of the coronavirus, the college’s leaders made the decision to hold most classes online.|

Fall classes at Santa Rosa Junior College will remain “largely remote,” officials announced, though the number of classes and activities happening on campus will expand from the levels of the past year.

The institution’s decision — relayed to students last week — was a surprise to some, less to others, but was rooted, President Frank Chong said, in what factors he and campus staff deem reliable as they begin creating class schedules for the fall, including determining which courses to prioritize for in-person elements to be held on campus.

Campus leaders said they took a more conservative outlook in anticipated vaccination rates than what state leaders project for the summer, and also factored in the continuing authority of the state and county health department to potentially restrict the college’s ability to more broadly open by Aug. 16 when the semester begins.

“We can’t wait until we see what vaccination numbers are like in July to make a decision about fall semester. Departments need to get courses scheduled,” said Julie Thompson, English professor and president of the academic senate. She and other campus stakeholders helped advise Chong as he sought a decision for the coming school year.

“I think we’re doing the right thing,” Chong said. Even so, “I totally understand the public’s impatience and dissatisfaction with what they consider to be a snail’s pace return to normalcy.”

The decision to maintain distance learning for many of the school’s approximately 22,000 students dashed the hopes of those who hoped to experience the academic and social routines for which they have longed in the past year.

“Honestly, I was shocked,” said Ally Lubas, who expects to complete her degree in business administration in the 2021-22 school year. Her discipline doesn’t involve much hands-on work, so she’s one of the students who could be less likely to have a class on campus next year.

“Here I kind of was assuming we’re going back to a hybrid model in the fall,” Lubas said. An extrovert who does best with regular social interactions and face-to-face interactions with her professors, Lubas found it proved much harder to keep up her grades during the past year.

Chong placed blame on Gov. Gavin Newsom for, as he put it, oversimplifying the process to reopen the state in his announcement of a June 15 target to retire California’s tiered Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The general public, Chong said, now has an expectation for all spaces, including the junior college environment, to be on the same timeline for broad reopening.

“I believe his announcement was irresponsible and unwise,” Chong said. “I think it makes the job of people like myself and others further challenged.”

Susan Bray, executive director of the Association of California Community College Administrators, said others are skeptical of the governor’s timeline, as well. Many institutions around the state are taking a cautious approach, she said.

“With the liability that districts are under ... they’re going to be cautious for their students first and foremost, and cautious for their faculty going back to campus,” Bray said.

It’s not clear what proportion of SRJC students will experience some in-person classes during the fall semester, but officials will prioritize them based on similar criteria to this year: fields that require time for hands-on instruction, such as nursing, culinary, and science classes that include lab time.

“I think a lot of us recognize there’s some disciplines that really need to be the first ones back,” Thompson said. “I can teach writing and critical reading skills online just fine. But dissecting a frog?”

Indications of student performance will also shape the decisions, said Dorothy Battenfeld, president of the Board of Trustees, including “certain classes where students are struggling or where grades may be dropping.”

Schedules and campus routines will also be determined in part by negotiations with the school’s three unions, which include faculty members and classified staff.

Though instruction will remain largely digital, and “mass gatherings” are prohibited, it’s possible that fall will see the return of other aspects of on-campus life, officials said. As construction crews work aggressively this spring on multiple projects related to Measure H, Chong said that more outdoor study spaces are among the improvements, so students can collaborate more safely in person.

Lubas is hopeful she and her fellow members of Student Government Assembly will be able to hold in-person meetings again.

“Students are still trying to get involved,” during the past year of remote learning, Lubas said. “But it’s definitely been a lot more difficult.”

Student services are likely only to be accessible remotely, which makes her nervous as she prepares to apply for four-year universities in the fall.

“I was stressing out ... thinking, how am I supposed to get help on this?” she said.

Chong said that funding through federal coronavirus relief bills will help the school continue to support students working remotely. The school is slated to receive $23.3 million in total, half of which is to be made directly available to students, he said.

“We’re going to push that money out to the pockets of students so they can then have the resources to return to or continue their education,” he said.

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

Kaylee Tornay

Education, The Press Democrat

Learning is a transformative experience. Beyond that, it’s a right, under the law, for every child in this country. But we also look to local schools to do much more than teach children; they are tasked with feeding them, socializing them and offering skills in leadership and civics. My job is to help you make sense of K-12 education in Sonoma County and beyond.  

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