Highline could see a partial return to live classes in the fall, college officials said this week, but it will depend on what people are comfortable with.
The college will spend the next few months asking students, faculty, and staff what they want to see for Fall Quarter, including a student survey to be conducted March 15-26.
This Saturday, March 13 will mark one year since Gov. Jay Inslee ordered schools across the state to shut their doors. Highline has been fully remote since then — save for a few lab science and health care classes here and there — and will remain so through June.
The news that Highline is hoping to enter more of a hybrid learning model this fall was announced Wednesday morning by Dr. John Mosby, who is the college president, and confirmed by Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Emily Lardner.
Dr. Lardner said ideally, students and faculty who feel comfortable returning to campus for modified in-person instruction should have the opportunity to do so, and vice versa: students and faculty who aren’t ready to return and would like to remain remote for Fall Quarter should be afforded that option.
It’s just a matter of hearing from everybody and understanding everyone’s needs, she said. Then a plan can start to form.
“It’s going to be a lot of collaborative conversations that we’ve never had before to get the distribution of people to be reasonably safe on campus,” Dr. Lardner said. “We have to start, because we do have to come back, but we also have to be ready to close campus if anything changes. At least it seems like we are going to be able to return to campus, which feels good.”
She said the focus will be on creating a plan specifically tailored to the needs of all students, staff, and faculty, with the goal of accommodating everybody.
“We’re trying to keep students at the center of our decision and making sure faculty and staff feel supported,” said Dr. Lardner. “I’m going to write to faculty asking if they want to be on campus in the fall.”
After that, she said the next steps will be looking at classrooms, measuring them, and seeing how many students each one can safely accommodate in accordance with public health guidelines. Then, it’ll be a matter of using that information — along with the number of faculty and students who feel comfortable returning in the fall — to create a detailed plan of return.
“It’s going to be about managing bodies in spaces to make sure everyone stays safe,” Dr. Lardner said. “Ideally, the faculty who want to be on campus will be a good match for the students who want to be on campus, but it’s hard to know until we ask.”
Those conversations will begin soon, she said. Meanwhile, college officials are continuing to heed the guidance of Nicki Bly, Highline’s public health director and department coordinator of the Respiratory Care program.
“We are really lucky to have Nicki,” Dr. Lardner said. “She’s been saying for months, ‘We will come back to campus,’” it’s just a matter of when.
She also said the limited number of students and faculty who have already returned to campus have been able to do so safely.
“We haven’t had any [COVID-19] transmissions on campus,” Dr. Lardner said. “We think we know how to keep our working environment conditions reasonably safe, so we need to start thinking about coming back to campus.”
In the weeks and months to come, college officials will communicate extensively with students, staff, and faculty to make sure everyone’s voices are being heard and represented throughout the planning process.
For now, Dr. Lardner said nothing is set in stone for fall, and students and faculty should understand that their needs are the focus here. Those who wish to continue remote learning or teaching should be able to continue doing so, hence the need for everyone’s voices to be heard before a plan is created.
She said feedback is one of the most helpful things right now.
“It’s helpful when people say, ‘This isn’t working,’” Dr. Lardner said. “The more we can partner with students, the better our work is going to be.”
To view the tentative timeline for returning to campus in full, click here.