COVID-19 District Update - March 18, 2020

West Hills colleagues:

Faculty and staff at all three sites and the district office are working incredibly hard in these unprecedented times to manage the implications of this public health crisis.  We are incredibly grateful for all of your efforts and recognize that this constitutes a monumental shift in how we function.  The news in our region continues to evolve by the hour.

Based on current guidance from the California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley, and given that we cannot yet see the light at the end of the tunnel in this crisis, we are focusing on short-term decisions with an expectation that this crisis may last beyond the end of our spring semester.

While we are triaging the immediate needs of our students, faculty, and staff in these historic circumstances, we are also already preparing for potential budget repercussions.  Chancellor Oakley, in his recent guidance, noted the “strong possibility of a slowdown in the state’s economy.”  It is unclear what impact this crisis will have on district enrollment and state funding, but it is prudent to assume that the impacts will be significant.

During the past 48 hours, our colleges and district have taken many steps to assist in today’s transition to move primarily online with our classes.  The efforts were impressive by any measure.  The voluntary training to assist faculty and staff prepare for this alternate delivery of classes was well attended and great strides were made to ensure that students were prepared as well.  We are incredibly proud of all faculty and staff for their efforts to determine which courses can be converted to temporary remote instruction, taking into account a variety of needed requirements.  It is important to understand that the steps taken over the past two days gets us close to our goal of primarily alternate instruction methods where it makes sense to do so.  There is more work ahead, particularly as we seek to quickly develop tactics to ensure technology and access are available to all students.

Additional actions include: 

  • Alternate methods of instruction commence 

Today, a majority of our class offerings transitioned to remote instruction.  As of this writing, the current timeframe is to continue remote instruction through April 24, 2020 but is subject to change.  We extend our appreciation for your incredible efforts over the past 48 hours.  Your efforts were essential to substantially limit in-person interaction on campus as requested by the State Chancellor’s Office and adheres to guidance from the California Department of Public Health.  Our collective thanks to all faculty and college leadership for their responsiveness.  You’ve been agile and understanding and your hard work is yet another example of what differentiates you from our competitors. 

  • Declaration of Emergency 

At a special meeting of the West Hills Community College District Board of Trustees on Tuesday, March 17, the Board unanimously voted to approve a Declaration of Emergency for West Hills.  This action should have minimal impact on the day-to-day operations of faculty and staff, but will allow us primarily to recoup a portion of state funds if we see an enrollment decline as a result of this crisis and enable us to act quickly to the changing landscape.  You can read the full resolution on the District website. 

  • CTA Memorandum of Understanding 

Yesterday morning, signatures were added to a Memorandum of Understanding with CTA.  The MOU includes agreed consensus around a variety of working conditions affected by our transition to primarily alternative methods of instruction, office hours, and college service.  We are gratified by the collaborative approach of CTA and appreciate their continued leadership. 

  • CSEA Memorandum of Understanding 

Yesterday, District leadership was presented an initial draft of a Memorandum of Understanding with CSEA.  Negotiations have started and we expect consensus and signatures on the MOU this week. 

As of this writing this morning, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kings County and two confirmed cases in Fresno County.  We remain open for business with no plans to shut down; however, we are in constant dialogue with many local, state, and federal agencies, as well as our education partners in the Valley, on potential next steps including suspending on-campus operations and activating 100% remote operations. 

If this scenario is ordered by local or state authorities or if we are convinced it is essential for public health, it is important to recognize that does not mean we are shutting down.  Classes would continue to be delivered using remote instruction methods, services to students would be provided remotely by staff, and essential critical services would continue to be provided at each site.  This potential is our current focus and it is important to recognize it may take some time to really get close to the goal of 100% remote operations.  We stress patience and calm as we navigate this aspect. 

Neither the Governor nor the State Chancellor’s Office has mandated the full closure of college campuses.  In one case, the County of Riverside colleges have been required by local health officials to close.  Unless and until the Governor, the State Chancellor’s Office, or local public health officials issue a mandate to close, then we are not required to do so.  At the moment, the Governor is directing us to continue to provide instruction and to follow the guidance provided by the California Department of Public Health.

 Students continue to receive regular communications from the District.  A COVID-19 site has been created for students and staff.  You can access the messages here

Throughout today, District staff will continue to collaborate with all constituent groups as we continue plans to respond to this crisis.  We will continue to keep you updated.  Please let us know your thoughts.  Additional updates will be provided frequently this week so please check your email communications on a regular basis.

 In times of crisis, don’t let perfection get in the way of doing good.

Stuart Van Horn, Ed.D.