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LACCD falls short of ensuring student safety

As the Los Angeles Community College District and Valley College scramble to come up with a plan to prevent a virus outbreak on campus, the regulations bring up more questions than answers.

Opinion By Marcos Franco, Managing Editor

English instructor Holly Batty lectures a class of masked students. Monday Sep 27, 2021 (Photo by Ava Rosate/The Valley Star)

Returning to campus has been anything but smooth sailing as the district implements new requirements for students and faculty; a burden to adjust to in the middle of the fall semester.

Although the LACCD did not require students and faculty to provide proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing at the start of the semester, the revised Board Policy 2900 switches the contractual agreement given to students by the campus. The change tosses students a curveball as it is inconvenient and too short notice to implement a vaccine requirement.

While the constant-changing transition has been stressful enough for students, the confusion surrounding the deadline to submit proof of vaccination is an additional burden. While the updated policy states that all students and faculty must be fully vaccinated and have taken the baseline polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test by Oct. 18, the LACCD Emergency Operations Center recently released a statement claiming the date to be Oct. 8.

The abrupt change is a poor attempt by the district to make up for the mediocre job they have done at monitoring virus outbreaks on campus. At the start of the semester, Valley College along with the eight other campuses in the district issued a new policy requiring students and faculty to perform a symptom self check prior to arriving at campus. The flawed system is not a reliable means to limit the spread of the virus on campus, as it was not made widely known to be a requirement for in-person classes. Students have no incentive to complete the COVID-19 self assessment and are not penalized for failing to do so. As for the students who do check in, their assessments are not reviewed as the college creates a plan to monitor student and staff check-ins.

“Faculty or staff may ask students to show their Cleared4 results when they enter a classroom or building,” said Valley President Barry Gribbons. “We are developing additional systems to check for student and employee compliance.”

With the revision, Valley has partnered with Cleared4, a health verification platform that helps organizations monitor their teams' COVID-19 symptoms. The program will maintain vaccination records for all staff and students as well as administer testing for all nine colleges in the district.

The requirements are intrusive as they require students to upload not only their vaccination records, but also to submit proof of health insurance. If a student does not have health insurance, they must submit a statement that discloses so. If testing and vaccines are already provided to students at no additional cost, there is no reason to request proof of insurance.

As Valley recovers from the 2020 school year — the lowest enrollment count in five years — the college cannot afford large portions of its student population to drop their classes. According to Valley President Barry Gribbons, an estimated 75 percent of classes were canceled last fall as a result of the dip in enrollment. With the new regulations going into effect, students are more compelled to drop their face-to-face classes and finish their educational journey in an online environment.

Given the recent trend in fully vaccinated individuals testing positive for the delta-variant, the college should already have a set plan on what to do if an instructor tests positive. As of now, it is assumed that if this were to happen, the class would likely move back to the dull setting of Zoom.

“I would imagine many professors will decide to move the class online for 10 days while they’re quarantining,” said Gribbons. “There are other options that could be available, it's possible we could arrange for substitutes, but likely, the instructor would move online for two weeks.”

Valley should have announced a vaccine requirement over the summer — prior to the start of the semester — following the CalState system’s approach. It is a poor move by the LACCD to switch the contractual agreement given to students prior to the start of the semester. The middle of the semester is possibly the worst time to implement this new policy as students are stressed enough preparing for midterm exams.

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