Coronavirus Closes Higher Ed, Lower Schools Remain Open

Higher Learning Goes Virtual, Lower Schools Keep Kids in Class

Elementary and secondary schools will remain open, school districts said. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread throughout the state, Santa Barbara County has yet to identify a positive case — that isn’t stopping schools from proactively preparing for the outbreak.

UC Santa Barbara was the first to fully shut down and switch to virtual instruction on Tuesday. Chancellor Henry Yang announced that instructors should switch their classes to online-only format through April or longer, leaving it up to them to figure out how to implement the change. The university begins finals next week, followed by spring break, and many professors have sent students take-home exams or canceled the test. The chancellor warned students traveling for spring break that they may not be allowed back on campus.

The UC system allows campuses the independent ability to move its classes online, unlike the California Community College system, which requires approval from the State Chancellor’s Office. Santa Barbara City College is in the process of obtaining that approval, but in the meantime, it has begun to shift certain courses to online in subject areas that are simpler to do so. 

“I want you to realize that the easiest decision for me is to close campus and hope that we can move some classes online,” Superintendent-President Utpal Goswami said in a statement. “I also know that if we were to do that it would have placed many, perhaps the majority of students, in a situation where they will not be able to receive credit for the semester. 

“We can award credit if we can get students to about 80 percent of the prescribed total student work,” Goswami continued. “Thus, I have made the difficult decision to stay open as long as possible to get students to that juncture.”

As of today, SBCC will not close its campuses unless directed to do so by the County Public Health Department.

California State University Channel Islands is also making the switch to online-only instruction, which it announced Wednesday. It is only voluntary for instructors for the remainder of this semester, and then will become mandatory after spring break. Instructors will be given a week to adjust to the new mode of instruction and receive training; online classes begin April 6. The Goleta campus is included in the online-only switch.

Westmont College is switching to mandatory virtual instruction from March 16 through April 13. All winter national championship events have been canceled. Access to dorms and communal areas are restricted, and students must get permission to continue living in dorms if they can’t make alternative arrangements. 

“We’re all unsettled with the news that changes daily and sometimes hourly,” said Gayle Beebe, president of the private college. “Because the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff remains our highest priority, we’re moving to remote instruction.”

Antioch University in Santa Barbara switched to remote instruction as of today, and it will likely remain in place until April 20. The university cited the ease with which it switched to remote learning in 2017 and 2018 during the Thomas Fire and the subsequent 1/9 Debris Flow. The campus facilities remain open during the spring term.

“We are moving into uncharted waters as an institution, a country, and a planet because of the risks of the COVID-19 virus,” Antioch Chancellor William Groves said. “My paramount concern is the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and the communities we serve.”

In the K-12 systems, closing down schools for remote instruction is not nearly as easy. Lacking daycare, many parents would be forced to stay home with their children, losing income themselves and the local workforce its employees. The CDC has provided guidance for public and private childcare programs and K-12 schools to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Because no confirmed coronavirus cases exist in the county, the Santa Barbara Unified, Goleta Union, and Montecito Union school districts have not closed any schools or switched to remote instruction, but any other gatherings have been postponed or canceled through the remainder of March.

“With the recent guidance from the California Department of Public Health, our Santa Barbara County public schools are united in our approach to cancel or postpone large events and those that cannot accommodate social distancing,” said County Superintendent of Schools Susan Salcido. “School itself is an essential gathering and will continue unless the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department gives direction otherwise. Each school district is carefully balancing the importance of public health with the need for students to learn and be provided with continued school supports.”

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