As we begin summer term this week at Treasure Valley Community College, we are still grappling with the changes and restrictions inherent in today’s Covid-19 environment.
The State of Oregon is allowing higher education local discretion to start returning to in-person instruction, but this still comes with significant restrictions. Most of our courses this summer are still offered virtually or online, except for our aviation flights and a biology series. These in-person classes require face coverings and stringent cleaning protocols. They also give us a chance to see what we will need to do to re-open for fall.
TVCC must implement a plan for approval by both the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the Board of Education by Sept. 1, 2020. TVCC must also ensure our compliance with the recommendations of the Oregon Health Authority and the Malheur County Health Department as we slowly bring back students and employees to our campus.
Add to those challenges the announcement from PACE insurance, which covers a majority of school districts in the state, that they will no longer provide liability insurance for Oregon schools against lawsuits related to COVID beginning July1.
From what we’ve learned, this means any student, staff member, parent, or private citizen who claims they were exposed to or contracted COVID on College property or at a College event would be able to sue the community college district, except we’d no longer have any coverage to fight these claims.
I am grateful that both Senator Lynn Findley and Representative Mark Owens are calling for the legislature to address this concern. Their recommendation, which I support, is to contact legislative leadership to ask them to bring this topic forward in a special session. Many schools have said they will not be able to reopen at all because it would leave them exposed to frivolous and opportunistic lawsuits which could bankrupt or financially cripple our schools for years to come.
As I have shared, we have a “soft” reopening this summer for a couple of classes and we are slowly letting more employees come back to campus to work.
Many of our buildings are still closed as well as our gym and all outdoor fields. Without liability insurance, or the assurance that we have an approved plan that meets the current executive orders, we simply can’t risk opening the campus to the public this summer.
We’ve had to cancel planned meetings and community events that were scheduled to be held this summer on campus. And, we’ve had to ask community members to leave our practice fields and other areas. We hate that we are in this position and we share your disappointment in seeing our practice fields empty instead of filled with local athletes enjoying baseball, softball, tennis and soccer.
We expect – and are planning for – a full return to in-person instruction this fall. Class sizes will be limited for social distancing which means students should register early to secure a spot in these in-person courses. If you know a student who struggled with online classes this term, encourage them to register and to visit with an advisor to get back on track.
We know our students want to come back to campus. We want them back in our classrooms and our buildings. And we know that our campus is a beautiful place for the community to gather and enjoy walks, picnics, impromptu soccer games, dog walks and other gatherings. We are working to get protocols in place to ensure we are meeting health and safety guidelines to protect our students, employees and our community. Thank you for your continued support and understanding as we navigate these changing times.
On a final note, we are replacing the beautiful American flag that flies over our baseball fields. The flag was torn and weathered beyond repair. We appreciate all of those community members who reached out to ask where it went. I hope you have a wonderful Independence Day and celebrate the freedoms we all enjoy!
Dana Young is president of Treasure Valley Community College. The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The Argus Observer.