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Distance learning faces challenges as prep for possible extended stay-at-home orders begin

As Washington sees the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders extend towards the end of May while other states rush to re-open the economy, schools are faced with distance learning for potential quarters to come. Seattle Central faces uncertainty as accommodations to technology and expected budget cuts during quarantine become increasingly anticipated.  

As the global pandemic pressures the ability of academic institutions to adjust instruction and operations, Seattle Central sees limited immediate action to take, only able to alter operations following quickly changing government instructions. Decisions such as incorporating face-to-face instruction in Fall quarter are taken into consideration, but nothing is certain yet.

“These calls are not made by us, they’re made by the governor,” says Chancellor of Seattle Colleges, Dr. Shouan Pan. “There is no immediate reversal of the stay-at-home order, it’s going to be a gradual opening-up.”

With possible extended quarantine ahead of us, a concern among Seattle Central students is access to resources such as laptops and hotspots. With high demand but short supply, Central battles finding both funds and Chromebooks on the market.

“Laptops, Chromebooks, and hotspots have now become a very rare commodity,” says Dr. Pan. “Not only are we [still] finding funds, but sometimes even if you have the money you can’t get it on time because everyone is looking.”

The market for Chromebooks and hotspots has seen shortages such as those with protective gear, which Dr. Pan says Seattle Colleges is currently also looking for.

“We have been trying to get as much as we can,” Pan says, stressing the efforts Seattle Colleges is making to gear up on the technology needed by students. However, he’s seemingly frustrated at the depletion of these resources on the market, in addition to the challenges of gathering funds.

What happens if we do return to class during Fall Quarter 2020? Questions lingering around the student body include those related to budget and class instruction changes. According to Chancellor Pan, we can see an increase in face-to-face instruction if the Covid-19 condition has “drastically improved”.

Meanwhile, Jaime Cardenas, the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, has worked on making concrete decisions within his division here at Seattle Central.

“The plans for fall quarter, just for our division, will be that half of the classes will be online, and half will be hybrid,” says Cardenas. “It’s important to note that can change, if there is an uptick in infections or someone who has authority says that cannot happen.”

Other class instruction changes the college can expect in the future are the further incorporation of technology usage. Bradley Lane, Vice President of Instruction, Finance, and Planning expresses anticipation as Seattle Central moves forward with incorporating more online classes and degrees.

“Some of these changes were changes we’ve been talking a long time about making and we figured they would have to take years and years,” says Lane. “Then we made them in a manner of weeks because of the emergency. I do expect a lot of them to stay.”

Concerns about budget cuts and alterations were also brought up. With the state expected to lose billions of dollars in revenue as economies stay mostly closed, this affects the school’s funding.

‘The revenue is down. Tax collections, it’s down,” expresses Pan. “We are in the conversation to project budget cuts from 10-15%.”

While discussing the future of Seattle College programs and resources after the Covid-19 situation settles, this is not new to the school according to Yoshiko Harden, Vice President of Student Services at Seattle Central.

“I’ve been here for four years, and we’ve done budget reductions every year,” says Harden. “We’ve managed over the years to maintain a high level of service and still be innovative.”

Chancellor Pan also mentions “asking the board to extend the current budget for another 3 months”. During unprecedented times, Seattle Central is being asked to act one step at a time, following the instructions of state and federal governments closely, but being prepared for any course of action that may be needed.

With the resources to technology such as laptops and hotspots, statistics on school funding, and class instruction changes being questioned continuously as student and faculty hopes look forward to the return to class, the future is uncertain.

Taking an approach of flexibility, Seattle Colleges is carefully taking next steps with Summer Quarter, which will be fully online. A test of communication and collaboration, the Covid-19 crisis challenges just about all of the operations at Seattle Colleges.

“I think we’ve done a very good job at keeping everyone informed,” says Pan. “But we can do better.”

Without knowing where this pandemic takes us, it is more important than ever to reach out to faculty and staff to assure that your needs are being met, and that your voices are being heard. During these challenging times, Seattle Central faces significant changes as we head toward the start of the 2020-2021 year.

Alexa Villatoro

Alexa is an avid journalist seeking an A.A. with an emphasis on Global Studies at Seattle Central College. She's interested in pursuing investigative journalism to report on social struggles like immigration, civil rights, and access to education in South and North America. She is currently working to cover budget cut reforms at Central and civil rights movements in Seattle. Alexa is also a Youth Council Member at OneAmerica, advocating for greater access to quality education for immigrants and refugees in WA. She is a first-generation American who has travelled to 13 countries to explore world cultures and politics.

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