Reopening Town Hall - President Suarez

OCC President Angelica Suarez answered student questions via Zoom about the college's plans to reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Associated Students of Orange Coast College Advocacy Committee hosted a virtual town hall on April 30 to explore the college's COVID-19 reopening plans. Among those present to answer community-submitted questions were OCC President Angelica Suarez and various OCC leaders.

OCC Student Body President Jackson Dugan and Student Senate member Leslie Nguyen moderated a series of questions and comments asked by students in the Zoom chat box.  

Will students return to campus for the all 2021 semester? 

The answer is yes and no.

“The plan for fall is to continue to add to our opening presence on campus with a focus on instructional labs for workforce training, and allied health – and performance and activity courses, with a limited number of lecture courses,” Suarez said. “And the plan is to be fully open in spring 2022.” 

This means that a majority of classes will remain online. If students are unsure if the class they need to take will be online or in-person, the Fall 2021 semester has been made available online.

Is the vaccine going to be mandatory for all employees and students?

The vaccine is not going to be mandatory, but it is highly encouraged by OCC. Vaccine information can be found on the OCC website

“Community colleges do not require immunizations for attendance. At this time our district is not requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccines,” Student Health Center Director Kelly Daly said. 

Will there still be many online classes?

According to Suarez, OCC will continue to add more courses to the fall and summer semester. Students who may be more cautious may not want to return to in-person classes yet.

“For Fall 2021, we expect to have a large online presence,” Vice President of Instruction Michelle Grimes-Hillman said. “We want everybody to feel safe.”

How will course requirements be altered to accommodate students who choose online learning?

They don’t need to be. According to Suarez, all courses go through a strict process to ensure they meet major requirements. 

“When we offer something online we don’t actually alter a course or requirements for the major. They are exactly the same courses. We just change the instructional modality,” Grimes-Hillman said. 

Which student services will be available in person?

The answer is not entirely clear yet. Student Services is currently looking at which services are most critical for students that may need to be available in person, on campus. This includes enrollment services, financial aid, food and technology distributions, the bookstore, and more. Student Services is currently looking to phase in the services and expand those currently open that are more critical. 

“Today, unfortunately, as things have changed and we are working on the planning I don’t have a solid answer that says ‘these elements are going to be on campus effective fall,” Vice President of Student Services Madjid Niroumand said. “But we do recognize some of the things are critically important and we are absolutely working around them to see how we could provide those services both on campus as well as remotely to those students who want to take advantage of those services. Doing it one way or the other does not mean we need to reduce from remote just to have it on campus.”

The problem with planning is that safety guidelines continue to change. He stressed that Student Services will be available to answer questions as the situation evolves. 

“A lot of things change on a weekly or daily basis,” Niroumand said. 

What protocols are being followed?

The short answer is face-coverings and enhanced cleanings will be required.

The detailed answer came from Vice President of Administrative Services Rich Pagel. He explained that there are many recommendations from the CDC, the California Department of Public Health, Orange County Health Care Agency, and the City of Costa Mesa.

“We follow the highest standards out there and whatever one is most restrictive, that’s the one we need to go with,” Pagel said. 

Right now, OCC is following restrictions from the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency. 

What types of cleaning methods will be implemented per classroom?

OCC has deployed the latest technology in cleaning solutions to meet safety standards. Aerosol sprays will be used to clean used classrooms in the evening. Custodians will not be the only ones cleaning. OCC will provide cleaning solutions to the public so that students may have the option to wipe their own work and desk stations. Hand sanitizing and washing will also continue to be highly encouraged. 

“It’ll be a community event,” Pagel said. “This will take all of us.”.

What are the protocols if a student has COVID?

OCC will continue its current protocol for students and employees who contract COVID-19.

“If you feel ill, please let your professor know. Please stay home if you feel sick,” Daly said. “If you have a positive COVID test, or you feel sick, or you are exposed to someone with COVID, we ask that you report that. You can report by submitting a student reporting form on the OCC Student Website or you can call the Health Center.” 

The OCC Student Health Center is open with many resources online. Students who are currently enrolled who have paid their Student Health Fee are entitled to a variety of medical care and mental health care services through OCC via telehealth and limited in-person appointments

OCC will also continue contact tracing procedures. 

What about international students?

The Global Engagement Center will continue to offer services mostly online. 

“When it comes to [international students’] status, the federal government has extended the exceptions that have been in place since the start of the pandemic. Students can continue to take as many online courses as they need, there is no limit to that. Students are able to enter the country on visas and that sort of thing,” Dean of Global Engagement Nathan Jensen said. “There are some COVID related restrictions, but it has been recently announced that they will provide exceptions for international students under those restrictions starting in August.”

So what else can we look forward to opening or having in-person events?

OCC is also planning to have some open hours for the Planetarium and Art Gallery this fall. According to Dean of Visual and Performing Arts Larissa Nazarenko, OCC is planning to have one theater arts performance, one dance concert, and music performances are still in planning stages. They are working to identify the number of performers and logistics for performances in front of a safely sized audience. 

Student Services is also considering the recommendations from students.

Will OCC become a vaccine site?

OCC, Golden West College and Coastline Community College have applied to become a vaccination site but have not yet been approved. In the meantime the OC Fairgrounds is a Othena vaccination site. Everyone can apply to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine by visiting the Othena website

What are the plans for the rehiring of student workers?

As offices and services reopen, OCC will be looking to rehire students. 

“Students contribute a great deal to the operation of our services,” Niroumand said.

The district is currently drafting a COVID Prevention Plan that outlines the ongoing prevention of COVID and also what will guide OCC’s process to ensure the health and safety of employees and students. 

“We are navigating through what elements of each program that would support academic success factors can come back safely on campus. We will communicate those as soon as we have major plans,” Niroumand said. 

Saurez is looking forward to when more students can return to on-campus learning. 

“This past year we’ve learned a lot about online education and what works and doesn’t work,” said Suarez. “What makes OCC the special place that it is, is all the support we have onsite – our faculty, our staff – to really be a destination college. We plan to be back on campus.”

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