By Darla Martin Tucker
In keeping with recently released California Department of Public Health guidance, La Sierra University will hold the majority of fall quarter classes online, with allowed exceptions for certain labs and studio classes. It is also providing an automatic 10 percent fall quarter tuition subsidy for all enrolled students. School begins Monday, Sept. 21.
The university’s Emergency Management Team (EMT), which has met regularly since March to provide direction during the pandemic crisis, voted on Aug. 13 to maintain general instruction and operations online for the fall quarter in keeping with state guidelines for higher education that were released on Aug. 7. Under those guidelines, select science labs and art studio-type classes may be offered in person as long as careful measures are implemented to create a safe and healthy learning environment. Thus, La Sierra’s academic leadership is exploring which of these kinds of classes might be offered on campus this fall in adherence with strict state guidelines concerning physical distancing, sanitization, and other protocols as detailed in the Aug. 7 guidance.
Additionally, the decision by the EMT allows for some students to move into campus dorms based on state directives and on selection criteria established by the university. Details pertaining to athletics practices, communication of pandemic protocol and operations, protocol compliance strategies, additional safety procedures, and other matters will be addressed in forthcoming EMT decisions. Such actions will be incorporated into a four-part, detailed COVID-19 protocol plan that aligns with the state guidelines for higher education, which the EMT, through the work of four task force groups, has developed over the past several weeks.
Also, in order to give La Sierra’s new and returning students as much assistance as possible during the economic havoc wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the university has approved an automatic 10 percent subsidy on the combined total of fall quarter tuition and fees for all students. The move is in keeping with the university’s efforts to provide a variety of financial resources to help its students handle the costs of college. In 2018-2019, 97.5 percent of La Sierra’s undergraduate students received financial aid that did not have to be repaid.
Following is a summary of La Sierra University’s fall operations plan:
• Online instruction and advising for all regular classes utilizing Zoom video conferencing, Blackboard online learning, GoogleMeets, Microsoft Teams, and Panopto lecture capture software.
• Continued campus closure to all but essential staff and faculty, vendors, and allowed dorm students.
• Certain in-person science labs and art studio classes as allowed by state and county public health department mandates and in keeping with state and local guidelines for physical distancing, sanitization, mask-wearing requirements, wellness checks, and other protocol.
• Continued suspension of public events and athletics varsity and intramural games.
• Students who are not able to return home and those who meet other criteria are allowed to live in campus dormitories and must abide by campus health and safety protocols.
• Continued use of campus entrance and self-reporting wellness checks, state-mandated mask-wearing requirements, and physical distancing for anyone entering campus.
• Continued suspension of all university-sponsored travel outside of the country with a requirement that those who travel abroad on personal trips must avoid campus for 14 days after returning. Non-essential domestic travel is also discouraged.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the California Pacific Conference, of which the university’s Golden Eagles athletics program is a member, announced at the end of July that fall season sports and NAIA championships would move to spring 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since moving its operations online in March, the university has planned and hoped for a retraction in the pandemic’s spread that would allow for safe, on-campus learning utilizing a hybrid model of instruction that provides students with online or in-person options. However Riverside County, where La Sierra University is located, is among 38 counties that remain on California’s pandemic watch list for increasing COVID-19 cases, among other key indicators, and where the state has restricted colleges and universities from holding the majority of in-person classes as well as social and school gatherings. The Emergency Management Team’s detailed campus re-opening protocol plan will be implemented when state and county public health officials as well as campus leadership deem it is safe to return to campus. Components of the plan are being used currently to comply with government requirements that relate to the university’s restricted campus functions.
“While we are disappointed that we cannot yet fully open our beautiful campus, we are grateful for the work and guidance provided to us by public health experts whose task it is to keep the community safe and to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said La Sierra University President Joy Fehr. “It is our overarching goal as a Christian Seventh-day Adventist university to respond to Jesus’ call to love our neighbors as ourselves. We do this when we strive to the best of our ability to ensure the safety our campus and our Riverside community by working with public health agencies during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Emergency Management Team has done an excellent job in preparing the university for functioning well during this difficult time. We look forward with great anticipation to welcoming our new and returning students and helping them reach their educational goals. We are grateful to be able to help financially support their efforts through the 10 percent subsidy.”