The first day of classes at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah is only 25 days away. As COVID-19 cases continue to spike throughout the state, higher education institutions are forced to rethink how they might reopen for the Fall 2020 semester. President of WKCTC, Dr. Anton Reece, speaks with Tracy Ross about the college's plan to welcome students back to campus as safely as possible.
Since the first shut-down in March, COVID-19 has been rapidly and unpredictably changing how businesses, organizations, and the general public can safely operate and interact with one another. Because of the variable nature of the virus, Reece explains that the most crucial part of WKCTC's plan is fluidity. "As we speak, we are using a three-prong approach which would include face-to-face, hybrid, or virtual [instruction]."
"We know that we can't guarantee safety," Reece continues. "But certainly we can guarantee our intentional efforts to have the college as safe as possible. Our efforts are guided by the Kentucky Healthy at Work plan. This comes from the state level all the way through to the colleges. We have a Healthy at WKCTC welcome plan, which itemizes and details the specific, intentional steps we're taking."
Reece explains the core of WKCTC's reopening plan consists of three key areas deemed absolutely necessary to reduce or prevent the transmission of the coronavirus on campus. "When we talk about that we're all in this together, we really are," Reece says. "It's not a cliche. It's true. It's going to take a collaborative effort."
The three key areas include:
- Wearing a mask on campus.
"We want students and the general public, faculty, and staff to wear masks. We know that we can't say it's mandatory, but it's strongly required as a key step because of the benefits of wearing masks."
- Social distancing.
"We've been very meticulous - as many colleges and universities have - ensuring we have clear signage where we have made measurements to operate six feet or further apart, which certainly has an impact in terms of capacity."
- Additional cleaning.
"Before each class and session, the faculty members in the classroom or the staff members working would ask students to assist us in wiping down their areas to help promote cleanliness." This is in addition to scheduled cleanings in the morning and evenings.
Even with these three core elements, Reece says there is still a level of uncertainty about which method of instruction will be the safest option. "Basically, [we] are ready to modify, adapt, and adjust. If we get a large surge of students who come in person, we can make the necessary adjustments by communicating to those students by way of directors. Then we make necessary adjustments like we did in the spring."
Reece says that consistency is key when it comes to wearing masks, and he believes a federal mask mandate would help improve mask-wearing overall. "I think [in] the very front end of the process, there was a school of thought that the mask wasn't necessary. We've learned some more since then, and we can learn some more even heading in after the fall."
"Consistency, to me, is really two-fold. It's good for safety. I think also from an optics [perspective]...it would seem counterproductive for us to not have the encouragement of requiring masks...basically have just an open campus. That would not be good stewardship. That would not be good leadership. I want the focus to be on the teaching and learning environment and the great things we do...more so than a debate of what to wear, not to wear. I do believe that the masks, along with social distancing, along with frequent cleaning - it is a trifecta - would at best minimize transmission."
There are some positives to be found in restructuring education in the face of a worldwide pandemic, one of which is the emergence of widespread virtual learning and teaching. Reece says this virus has also shown him how "complex and necessary it is to have timely, frequent communication. We've been doing this with daily updates during COVID-19. We shifted to weekly as things started to level out. As we head into the spring, we'll have to modify to that and adjust accordingly. It's important that the WKCTC team in terms of campus, campus family, and all related community partners and general public...hear regularly what sort of measures have been put into place, that we've been responsive, who to contact, [and] engaging what those needs are."
Reece says COVID-19 has also shed light on accessibility gaps in terms of WiFi, rural versus urban-residing students, and diverse and under-represented groups. "[The virus] has heightened our awareness...of the importance of reaching all of our clientele and all of their needs."
For more information on their Fall 2020 semester reopening plan, visit the WKCTC website.