Letter to the Editor: A response to “Officials should remain realistic, keep fall semester completely online”

To the Editor:

A recent editorial by The Union, “Officials should remain realistic, keep fall semester completely online” (May 17), provides a somewhat unbalanced assessment of El Camino College’s approach to addressing class scheduling and other issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some context and a review of the facts may be helpful to readers.

Our COVID-19 task force, comprised of faculty, staff, and students, is discussing and drafting plans for a return to campus at some point in the future. However, despite assertions by The Union’s Editorial Board, speed is not a consideration in these deliberations. The guiding principles are flexibility, safety, and the well-being of the campus community. With direction from state and local health agencies, the Chancellor’s Office, and our Board of Trustees, we’ll return to a fully on-campus mode only when it’s safe to do so. For the upcoming fall semester, this means classes will be offered mostly online.

The Union’s Editorial Board apparently believes that returning to face-to-face instruction is largely a question of cost, and that this expense could be avoided by keeping classes online. While this seems like a simple solution, it overlooks the fact that many of our academic programs—especially those in critically-needed fields like public safety and allied health—must offer some face-to-face learning to meet external accreditation and certification requirements. We’re reviewing such courses to determine how they can be offered safely and appropriately.

We’re also concerned about the difficulty many students have faced as they try to learn in an online environment—something The Union has reported on several times this semester. Sadly, some students have felt the need to drop classes or abandon their academic pursuits altogether because of this transition. Yet the Editorial Board doesn’t seem to account for this in their demand for a fully-online fall semester. A full return to normal face-to-face instruction is the ultimate goal, but again, only when we can do so safely.

Another challenge of this highly fluid situation is how frequently information changes. Because of that, we created a COVID-19 informational webpage and have issued regular updates to the campus community since our task force was assembled in early March. In fact, following our first message on February 18 alerting students and employees to the coronavirus threat, we’ve sent more than two dozen campus-wide emails that are also posted on the webpage. These messages have been supplemented by several dozen social media posts. All of this communication has included information about student services and resources, updates on plans and procedures, and answers to frequently asked questions.

And yet, The Union’s Editorial Board finds these efforts lacking, claiming the communication doesn’t contain “vital information or real updates.” One wonders what exactly must be contained in this communication for it to pass muster. No information is withheld from students. No message we send is simply window dressing. We communicate what we know when we know it. Multiple campus departments confer on a variety of issues. As decisions are made and plans are finalized, we relay these details so students can make informed choices.

The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented and complex. We’re all adapting as best we can in a rapidly evolving environment. At El Camino College, that doesn’t mean we’re acting hastily or haphazardly. To the contrary: we’re working diligently and carefully to ensure our students can reach their educational goals safely and efficiently.

We recognize The Union’s role in reporting on matters of concern to the campus and appreciate the opportunity to respond to the May 17 editorial.

Dena P. Maloney, Ed.D.


El Camino College