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Blinn College Trustees Approve Fall Semester Plans

Fall semester plans at Blinn College were approved by the board of trustees at Tuesday’s meeting.

That’s after seven administrators combined for a 90 minute presentation.

Most Blinn students will be taking fall classes that lasts four, eight, or 12 weeks. Vice chancellor of academic affairs Marcelo Bussiki detailed how only 20 to 25 percent of fall classes will last the entire 16 week semester.

Vice chancellor of student services Karen Buck reported Texas A&M has referred fewer students to Blinn. Buck also said compared to last year, enrollment is up for Blinn’s May minimester and first summer session classes, noting summer session classes this year are all online instead of in-person.

Assistant vice chancellor of human resources Marie Kirby announced there will be a flexible hiring freeze that will continue through the next budget year.

Trustees were also told that subject to future health conditions, Blinn starts a phased return to opening offices on June 15th. Phase two is scheduled for July 20th, and phase three on August 17th.

More information is online at blinn.edu

Click HERE to be directed to Blinn College’s coronavirus website.

Click below for comments from Marcelo Bussiki, Karen Buck, and Marie Kirby from the May 19, 2020 Blinn College trustees meeting.

Listen to “Blinn College trustees approve reopening plans for the fall semester” on Spreaker.

Letter sent by Blinn chancellor Mary Hensley to employees:

Dear Faculty and Staff,

I would like to thank you again for your unwavering commitment to Blinn College during these recent months. Together, you have demonstrated the values and dedication that form the foundation of this proud institution.

Now that the Spring semester has concluded, our minds turn toward the future. While we find ourselves in extraordinary times, I have found strength in your continued resilience in the face of this pandemic. Rest assured that we care about your well-being and want to keep you updated as the College responds to this ongoing situation.

In our most recent update regarding Blinn’s response to COVID-19, we announced that May Minimester, Summer I, and Summer II courses would be offered entirely online, and that all College personnel would continue to work remotely through at least May 31st. In addition, Blinn student housing is closed for the summer and all external meetings and events have been canceled.

In light of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive orders re-opening parts of the Texas economy, Blinn will begin a phased return to campus staffing on Monday, June 15th. As we resume on-campus operations, our top priority is to protect the safety and health of Blinn’s faculty, staff, and students. With that goal in mind, we have taken a variety of steps to make our campuses safe and outlined a flexible, multi-phase return to campus designed to meet Blinn’s operational needs while protecting our campus communities and remaining responsive to the needs of our employees.

It is clear that the Fall 2020 semester will be very different from previous semesters. As public health information concerning COVID-19 evolves, it is likely we will need to adjust our guidance. The following is a general framework based on input from Blinn personnel, public health officials, and evidence-based public health protocols regarding the control of infectious disease.

Health and Safety Guidance

When the College returns to campus operations, employees and students will notice a variety of changes designed to create a safe and healthy environment.

Social Distancing: Maintaining space from others is one of the most effective tools in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Public health officials recommend that individuals remain at least six feet apart at all times, do not gather in groups, and avoid mass gatherings. To support this effort, Blinn will continue to encourage virtual meetings using tools such as Skype and Teams, and will restrict face-to-face meetings. Departments should remove or rearrange chairs and tables or add visual cue marks in meeting rooms to support social distancing practices between attendees.

Advanced Cleaning Protocols: Blinn has collaborated with its custodial vendors to conduct advanced cleaning protocols in accordance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, and custodial services will conduct additional cleanings.

In addition to these disinfection procedures, additional care should be taken to wipe down commonly used surfaces. Blinn encourages all employees to wipe down their work areas with EPA-registered 60% alcohol solution before starting work and before leaving any room in which they have been working. Blinn is ordering additional cleaning supplies that will be provided for this purpose.

Plexiglass Dividers: A number of Blinn workstations are designed to provide customer service to the public. To protect these employees and campus visitors, the College is installing plexiglass dividers to maintain physical separation and will install additional dividers this summer.

Face Masks/Face Coverings: We strongly encourage all employees working on campus to wear face masks or face coverings when in the presence of others. Appropriate use of face masks or coverings is essential to minimizing risks to others near you, though it is not a substitute for social distancing. Blinn anticipates that most employees will bring their own masks for use during work hours. However, to facilitate the use of protective masks on campus, the College has obtained a limited supply of masks and will provide masks for employees if needed. Departments that traditionally have been provided those items, such as police, food services, and health sciences, will continue to receive those materials through the normal budgetary process.

Please note the following recommendations for proper use and care of face masks and coverings:

· Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer prior to handling the face mask/cover.

· Ensure the face mask/cover fits over the nose and under the chin.

· Avoid touching the front of the face mask/cover.

· Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth when removing the face mask/cover and wash your hands immediately after removing.

· Cloth face coverings may not be used more than one day at a time and must be washed after use. Cloth face coverings should be properly laundered with regular clothing detergent before first use and after each shift. Cloth face coverings should be replaced immediately if soiled, damaged, or contaminated.

· Disposable masks should not be used for more than one day and should be placed in the trash immediately if soiled, damaged, or contaminated.

Hand Sanitizer Stations: Blinn will install additional hand sanitizer stations in the common areas of every campus facility for use by employees and students. Disinfectant wipes will be available for use by instructors and students for wiping down instructional spaces as needed.

Restrooms: Occupancy of restrooms will be limited based on facility size to ensure at least 6 feet of social distancing between individuals, and signage will be posted to indicate the appropriate capacity. Restrooms will be cleaned at least every two hours during the day and will undergo a detailed cleaning each evening. Please wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom.

Elevators: Campus elevators will be limited to one individual at a time. When using the elevator, please wear your mask or face covering and avoid touching the elevator buttons with your exposed hand/fingers, if possible. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol upon departing the elevator.

Travel: To safeguard our campus communities, Blinn will continue to limit official travel to that deemed essential by the appropriate vice chancellor.

Use of Facilities: Blinn facilities will not host events for external organizations this summer. This includes meetings, banquets, luncheons, speeches, performances, and other gatherings. Blinn will not host summer camps, campus tours, or recruiting visits on any of its campuses. Further, we anticipate such events also will be limited during the Fall semester and all business meetings will be conducted in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Phased Return to Campus Operations

Blinn plans to resume in-person campus operations in three distinct phases this summer. In each phase, the College will work with local health officials to monitor and ensure that the risk of contagion is managed effectively before proceeding to the next phase. In advance of Phase 1, select Blinn personnel have returned to campus in anticipation of the safe return of College employees.

Phase 1 (tentatively scheduled to begin Monday, June 15th): Phase 1 will focus on the return of select key personnel needed to initiate essential functions related to resuming in-person work. In this initial phase, Blinn personnel will be allowed to return to on-site work, either because they can most effectively do their jobs on site or because their presence is required on site for management purposes. During this phase, all in-person campus services also will continue to be offered remotely. Employees selected to return to on-campus operations during this phase will be notified no later than Monday, June 1st.

Phase 2 (tentatively scheduled to begin Monday, July 20th): Pending the successful implementation of Phase 1, Blinn will return additional employees to on-site work at a level not to exceed half of full-time employees in a given area. This phase will include additional employees who can begin to offer limited on-campus services made available by appointment only. These services will be identified based upon the advice of public health officials, the College’s business needs, and the input of individual departments. Employees selected to return to on-campus operations during this phase will be notified no later than Monday, July 6th.

Phase 3 (tentatively scheduled to begin Monday, August 17th): Pending the successful implementation of Phase 2, Blinn anticipates returning additional employees to campus operations during this phase to provide an expanded selection of on-campus services. The expansion of these campus services will be identified based upon the advice of public health officials, the College’s business needs, and the input of individual departments. Those personnel previously approved for remote work assignments will remain off-site until the College receives further guidance from public health authorities. Employees selected to return to on-campus operations during this phase will be notified no later than Monday, August 3rd.

Supervisors will recommend the positions to be included in each phase based upon the College’s business needs. Once identified, supervisors will submit these positions and the names of individuals who can fill those roles on campus to their vice chancellor and the Human Resources Department. Positions will be prioritized based solely upon the business needs of the College.

After the Human Resources Department and the vice chancellors approve the list of selected positions to return to campus, supervisors will notify those employees directly. Employees asked to work on-site who have concerns about returning should contact their Human Resources liaison. Blinn will follow Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance requesting flexibility and understanding by employers and employees in these circumstances. Please note that supervisors will not determine accommodations and will not ask employees about personal health or medical information. All such conversations will take place solely between the specific employee and Human Resources Department personnel in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.

In the earliest phases of Blinn’s return to campus operations, no employee will be required to work on site if they have valid health concerns. The College anticipates a variety of situations in which employees may request that they continue to work remotely, and the examples below illustrate the most common situations without representing a complete list.

Example 1: If any employees 65 years of age or older are notified to return to work and they request to work remotely due to elevated risk from COVID-19 exposure, the College may approve the temporary workplace modification, according to CDC guidance.

Example 2: If employees inform their Human Resources liaison that they have a disability that puts them at greater risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19 and they request to work remotely, the College may provide accommodation if it will not pose an undue hardship on the institution. The College may require verification that this accommodation request is necessary.

Example 3: If employees inform their Human Resources liaison that they have a valid health condition that places them at greater risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19 and they request to work remotely, the College may approve the temporary workplace modification if it will not impose an undue hardship on the institution. The College may require verification that this accommodation request is necessary.

Example 4: If employees who are notified to return to work on campus inform their Human Resources liaison that they are unable to do so because their child’s school is closed or childcare is unavailable due to COVID-19, the College may allow the employee to continue to work remotely. If employees are unable to work their full schedule, they may request leave.

Supervisors will have the flexibility in each phase to develop schedules that meet the College’s business needs while limiting the personnel on campus. These can include:

Remote Work: Those who can work remotely to fulfill all or some of their work responsibilities may continue to do so to reduce the number of individuals on campus and the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus. These arrangements, which must be pre-approved by the employee’s immediate supervisor, can be conducted on a full or partial daily or weekly schedule as appropriate. All employees who continue to work remotely will continue to work their full number of assigned hours.

Alternating Days: To limit the number of individuals and interactions among those on campus, departments are encouraged to develop plans that schedule partial staffing on alternating days. Such schedules will help enable social distancing, especially in areas with large common workspaces.

Staggered Reporting/Departing: Staggered reporting and departure times can reduce traffic in common areas and help to meet social distancing requirements.

Supervisors should coordinate these arrangements in advance with the Human Resources Department.

During the summer, on-campus operations will be limited to the hours between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. to allow cleaning crews to conduct advanced cleaning protocols each evening.

Fall Semester

The Fall semester represents a chance for a fresh start to a new academic year. As we continue to overcome this challenge together, we must adapt our operations in light of these current circumstances.

The Board of Trustees and Administration have worked tirelessly in recent years to place Blinn in a stable financial position. Through a variety of strategic steps, Blinn has prepared itself to respond to times such as these. Together, we will do exactly that.

On Tuesday, the Administration presented the Board of Trustees with a proposed Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget of $105 million, representing a 12.4% decrease from the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget. While this proposed budget includes a potential salary increase for full-time faculty and staff, it also anticipates a 10-20% enrollment decrease and significant declines in state funding and auxiliary revenues.

To accommodate these revenue shortfalls, Blinn will institute a district-wide, flexible hiring freeze for the 2020-21 fiscal year. The proposed budget includes reductions in all departmental budgets and significant reductions in travel expenditures, including intercampus and conference travel. While these adjustments will change the manner in which we conduct business during the upcoming fiscal year, Blinn has taken these steps in an attempt to avoid the layoffs and furloughs that have impacted higher education institutions across the nation.

In recognition of the unique challenges ahead in the upcoming Fall semester, College leadership will implement the following strategies:

Self-Certification

Blinn will adopt a new interim regulation for the Fall semester that requires employees and students, prior to returning in August, to self-certify that within the last 14 days they have not been COVID positive, do not have COVID symptoms, and have not been in the presence of anyone known to be COVID positive.

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” that individual will be required to notify Blinn, self-isolate for 14 days, and return to campus only if symptom-free at the end of that period. No employees will be allowed to return to work until they have self-certified, and employees will be required to self-certify on a weekly basis.

Testing Positive for COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Blinn has plans in place in the event a Blinn employee or student tests positive for the virus. Those testing positive for the COVID-19 virus will receive appropriate treatment and place themselves in self-isolation as dictated by evidence-based public health protocols for the control of infectious disease. This will be conducted in conjunction with local medical and public health professionals, and where possible, those testing for COVID-19 will complete their self-isolation at their permanent residence.

Residence hall students who test positive for COVID-19 who are unable to relocate to their permanent residence will be moved to a separate facility the College has established specifically designated for self-isolation. Students requiring medical care will be treated as appropriate by medical professionals.

Students who test positive for COVID-19 may return to Blinn classes and activities after testing negative and after their return has been cleared by their health care provider or in accordance with the most recent local public health and medical guidance.

Faculty and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to work remotely or take sick leave or other appropriate leave in accordance with Blinn policies and regulations. These individuals will place themselves in self-isolation as determined by local health officials at the time of testing, returning to Blinn only after testing negative and being cleared to return by their health care provider or in accordance with the most recent local public health and medical guidance.

Face Coverings

Blinn College will continue to strongly encourage all employees and students to utilize face coverings during the Fall semester. Some specific departments and positions, such as Food Services and Health Sciences, may be required to utilize face coverings.

Academics

Throughout this pandemic, we continue to keep the safety of the entire Blinn community at the forefront. The challenges associated with COVID-19 necessitate changes to the structure of the Fall academic programs.

The Fall 2020 semester will begin as scheduled on Monday, August 24th. This course schedule will include a significantly reduced number of 16-week courses in favor of 8-week courses and a smaller number of 4-week courses. Approximately 20-25% of the courses offered during the Fall semester will be 16-week courses; these primarily will be skills- and performance-based courses as well as select laboratory, allied health, and technical and workforce education courses.

Some studies have shown that shorter semesters lead to an increase in overall student success and also allow students to overcome any unforeseen interruptions more quickly. In light of the current pandemic, shorter semesters provide the additional flexibility needed to adapt to an ever-changing situation.

Blinn will offer face-to-face, blended, and fully online courses this Fall, with a concentration in blended and fully online courses. All classes with a face-to-face component will be enhanced virtually with online instruction conducted synchronously. To control on-campus presence and classroom density, students registered for face-to-face and blended classes will rotate between those modalities, allowing all students in the class to experience both face-to-face and remote instruction.

To allow Blinn the flexibility to adapt to changing health conditions, all faculty will be trained fully in eCampus prior to the start of the Fall semester and all courses will have an eCampus site with content loaded in advance of the semester.

Final exams in all courses – regardless of modality – will take place remotely, with the exception of Career and Technical Education and Health Sciences courses and those students who have obtained accommodations through Disability Services.

To accommodate social distancing requirements, course caps will be lowered to ensure that six-foot social distancing guidelines are met and that classrooms will host no more than one person per 36 square feet and meet any local and state guidelines. Additionally, the College will offer an expanded selection of Saturday courses to help meet student course needs while limiting course capacities.

Tuition and district-wide fees for the 2020-21 academic year have been posted. At the College’s discretion, and to provide the safest environment for faculty, staff, and students, some or all instruction for the 2020-21 academic year may be delivered remotely. Tuition and mandatory fees have been set regardless of the method of instruction and will not be prorated or refunded in the event instruction occurs remotely for any part of the academic year.

Housing

The Brenham Campus will offer student housing during the Fall semester. To ensure social distancing, one student will be assigned per room and students living in the residence halls will be prohibited from day or overnight visitors. As with other locations on campus, advanced cleaning protocols and social distancing guidelines will be in effect. Common seating and gathering locations within the residence halls will be closed and occupancy limitations will be in place in common restrooms and laundry room spaces. Outdoor seating will be open but social distancing guidelines will apply.

Prior to move-in, students will undergo a screening process that includes a temperature check. Further, routine temperature checks will continue to occur throughout the Fall semester.

Food Services

Blinn will offer food services during the Fall semester. Plexiglass will be installed in appropriate locations and the floors will be marked to encourage social distancing in lines. All Food Services employees will wear facemasks and gloves.

In addition to serving meals for consumption in the dining spaces, the College will provide meals to go. Dining area seating will be arranged to encourage social distancing and all dining spaces will undergo frequent cleanings.

Athletics

Blinn currently anticipates having athletics in the Fall and we continue to formulate our plans for how these programs will be structured. The NJCAA, the two-year college intercollegiate sports governing body, will announce its plans for Fall sports in mid-June. After that takes place, Blinn will finalize plans regarding its Fall athletic programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a very fluid situation. In these unprecedented times, you may have many questions. Our planning continues to evolve, and as we gather and adapt to new information, I am committed to updating you every step of the way. Blinn’s success always has relied on our ability to work as a team. We are in this together and will come out of this even stronger.

Closing comments

Once again, I would like to thank each of you for your innovation and adaptability over these past two months. This summer and the Fall 2020 semester will look very different from previous years, but I know that with the exceptional team we have in place, we will continue to provide outstanding service to our students and communities.

As we prepare to provide this vital service to the students and communities we serve, please know how much we appreciate your expertise and input. If I can assist you in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or your vice chancellor.

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Posted by on May 21 2020. Filed under covid, Featured Stories, Local News for Newsletter, News.
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