Community colleges in California on Wednesday were officially given the green light to suspend in-person classes, and several of them have already joined other higher education institutions across the state and country in moving to online instruction in response to the growing threat of coronavirus.

In a webinar on Wednesday involving the presidents of individual campuses, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the system’s statewide chancellor, told them they can skip the standard approval process, which involves getting permission from Oakley’s office, and move classes online as soon as they deem necessary. 

At least 20 of the system’s 114 community colleges have so far announced plans to convert courses to online instruction in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the official name of the virus. That includes all nine colleges that make up the state’s largest district, the Los Angeles Community College District. More colleges are likely to follow. 

The California community college system enrolls more than 2 million students, making it the largest system of higher education in the United States. Most of those students are part-time. 

Christina Jimenez, public information officer for the chancellor’s office, said that California’s community colleges have long offered online courses and have the capacity to expand offerings. 

“There is an administrative process that needs to occur with the state Chancellor’s Office, which we are expediting,” Jimenez said. “But colleges can go ahead and convert to online and work out the administrative approval later.”

At the Los Angeles Community College District, which enrolls more than 200,000 students in nine colleges, most classes will be moved online beginning March 18, the district’s chancellor Francisco Rodriguez announced Wednesday.

The district’s colleges include Los Angeles City College, East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles Harbor College, Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles Pierce College, Los Angeles Southwest College, Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, Los Angeles Valley College and West Los Angeles College.

Online instruction for most classes at those colleges will continue until at least April 13.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Los Angeles Community College District is making these changes to protect the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff and to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Rodriguez said in a statement. 

Another community college in Los Angeles County, Pasadena City College, also will convert most in-person classes to virtual instruction beginning March 18 and continuing until the end of spring break on April 20. 

Some classes that require face-to-face instruction, such as lab courses, will continue to meet in person, meaning that some students won’t necessarily be affected by the new policy. 

That includes Marilyn McIntire, a part-time student who takes only one course: a lab class that is a prerequisite to the college’s dental hygiene program. But she said she’s not worried about continuing to go to class in person. 

“It doesn’t concern me simply because I know to carry hand sanitizer and a can of Lysol and spray my desk down and anything I have to touch. I spray it before I touch it,” she said, adding that she thinks leadership on campus is “taking steps to make sure that they can contain this thing as well as they can.”

Several community colleges and districts in the San Francisco Bay Area are also making the transition to online instruction for most classes. 

At the City College of San Francisco, in-person classes are canceled for the rest of the week and the college plans to move its spring break from the week of March 30 to the week beginning March 23. Classes are then scheduled to resume virtually on March 30 and continue in that format until the end of the semester on May 21.

The San Mateo Community College District, home to three community colleges, is canceling in-person classes from March 12 through March 16. During that time, faculty will transition their courses to an online format, and most classes will resume on March 17 via Zoom, Canvas or other virtual methods. Exceptions are being made for lab courses and other classes that must meet face-to-face.

In-person classes are also suspended at West Valley College and Mission College, the two colleges that make up the West Valley-Mission Community College District in Santa Clara County. Classes will resume virtually at those schools in waves — some on March 16, some on March 23 and others after spring break on April 6.

“The district team is already working on enabling remote technology access for our users of Banner, Zoom and others systems, ensuring that we maintain payroll continuity and increasing our custodial staff to continue to keep the campuses clean and safe,” the district’s chancellor, Bradley Davis, wrote in a message to the campus.

The Contra Costa Community College District has not officially suspended in-person classes but is exploring how to implement online instruction for lecture classes, with March 16 targeted as a start date and April 12 the planned end date.

Classes at the four colleges in the Peralta Community College District — Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, Laney College and Merritt College — are canceled for the rest of this week, and spring break will be moved from April to next week. 

Beginning March 23 and continuing through April 4, faculty at Peralta will have the option to teach their classes online. They also have the option of continuing to teach in-person during that period, but the district says it is strongly encouraging faculty to teach online when possible. 

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