Pierce College officials have decided to switch campus operations to online as the global pandemic of COVID-19 advances, though there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus on campus.
Colleges across Washington State have restricted campus activities and resorted to online classes, with many beginning to deep clean and disinfect campus work spaces. Others have kept student services like libraries and laboratories running, though classes are operating online.
While no deaths have been reported in Pierce County, there are 19 positive cases according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health department as of March 13, 2020.
“Health and safety comes first,” said Brian Benedetti, director of marketing and communications.
Starting March 17, all classes will be held on CANVAS, though the campus will remain open for labs and clinics. Group gatherings of more than 50 people have been restricted for the next few weeks by word of Chancellor Michele Johnson.
The Custodial Service Department will be cleaning personal workspaces for staff upon request in addition to the routine cleaning across campus. Currently the campus will not be deep cleaned due to the absence of confirmed coronavirus cases at Pierce College Puyallup, though cleaning efforts have been amplified and precautionary measures will be used.
“Every college and most businesses have what’s called an Incident Command System that you enact when you have emergency situations,” said Benedetti.
The ICS is made up of the Executive team, Campus Safety and other officials from various groups, working with Pierce County’s local Health Department for recommendations on the status of campus operations. The Chancellors, Presidents, Vice Presidents and the rest of the team meet daily to debrief on the concern for the current pandemic.
Three guiding principles are used by the ICS team for decisions on emergency campus closures. First comes the preservation of the health and safety of students and staff.
The second principle recognizes their commitment to preserve and continue the mission while preserving student learning outcomes. Finally, the team aims to preserve the financial well being of employees and student workers.
Student and staff accommodations during this time are one of the issues that ICS has been working on, according to Benedetti. Shipments of laptops and hotspots have been ordered for faculty and students that don’t have access to the internet at home.
Professors that might not use Canvas Instructure will be offered professional development training, and those that don’t have online access will be set up with Virtual Private Networks and the necessary technology to conduct courses online. The Vice Presidents and Deans at Pierce College campuses are currently working to help faculty members that don’t have online experience.
“We’re asking them [faculty members] to try to accommodate their students’ needs in every way that they can,” said Benedetti.
Changes to course requirements have varied on a case-by-case basis since the possibility of a campus closure has been announced, and instructors have been asked to be creative in meeting the learning styles of various students.
The ISC team has been working with the State Board to set up Zoom accounts for both students and faculty. Zoom is a video conferencing website that offers a variety of different interactive communications. Many professors plan to set office hours through Zoom accounts. While virtual meeting spaces aren’t the same as in-person interactions, the idea is to provide additional and visual help to students.
Unprecedented circumstances of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak has created universal concern throughout the education system and local communities. The Puyallup School District announced complete closure from March 16 to April 24, the same day that Pierce College Puyallup is predicted to switch to online classes.
“Right now of course we’re just trying to keep everyone safe… and we’re working to keep our educational mission going,” said Benedetti.
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