While Hancock College plans to have as many students as possible back on campus for the start of the 2021-22 school year in August, details about masking requirements and instruction formats remain unknown.
Meeting in the college board room on Tuesday evening, members of the Board of Trustees discussed the decision not to require COVID-19 vaccines for students or staff and debated whether masks should be required as a result.
While guidance for K-12 schools released last week requires indoor masking for all students and staff, to be enforced at the discretion of individual districts or schools, the guidance is less clear for higher education, Human Resources Director Ruben Ramirez said.
"Higher education guidance points to Cal-OSHA guidance, which really says, 'if you're unvaccinated you have to wear a mask, [and] if you're vaccinated you may not wear a mask,'" Ramirez said. "If we were going to allow students to not wear a mask in the classroom because of their vaccination status, at some point there should be a check on the vaccination status, or it would be on the honor system."
Alejandra Enciso Medina, appointed as Area 3 trustee in June, suggested that the district model the K-12 guidance of widespread masking to set a good example.
"I work with young people ages 10 to 21, and all the local school districts are still using masking, even in the summer months," Medina said. "I think we, as adults, should model that great behavior to be consistent with our communities that we’re serving."
Vice President of Academic Affairs Bob Curry said college leaders hope to have a clearer idea of what the fall semester will look like by Aug. 1, with the school year beginning Aug. 16.
Plans for the upcoming school year have changed dramatically over recent months. While faculty were permitted prior to the summer to choose the modality of their classes, they were later informed that all classes would take place in person after the board lifted the college's state of emergency in June.
As of this week, Hancock Full-Time Faculty Association President Roger Hall said he is unsure whether the college will require documentation or some other form of validation from faculty who have concerns about returning to campus.
However, he said the association and the district plan to meet on July 29 to discuss specifics related to the fall semester, including whether faculty are permitted to offer hybrid classes.
"Right now, I would say the expectation is that students are gonna be back on campus with maybe a few exceptions. We don't really know a lot, because in the summer we don't have very good communication," Hall said, noting that some faculty don't check their email over the summer and that some administrators have been on vacation.
Despite the remaining questions, new student trustee Jacqlyn Rayas, sworn in at the beginning of Wednesday's meeting, said she is happy that the college is committing to having classes in person this fall.
"For a lot of students and for me in particular, remote learning caused a lot of complications, and it's not conducive to a learning environment at all," said Rayas, who studies biology at Hancock. "I'm excited to come back in person, and especially for high school students who have never been to Hancock, it's really important."
To promote health messaging and encourage COVID-19 vaccinations among students, the college is joining the White House's COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge, and will be hiring student ambassadors to provide hygiene reminders, said Vice President of Student Services Nohemy Ornelas.