ACC plans in-person classes for fall

Big issue for international students is travel in virus era, not new visa rule

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July 9, 2020 - 10:29 AM

Allen Community College

Allen Community College plans to hold in-person classes this fall, and looks to operate as normally as possible while still taking COVID-19 safety precautions.

One outcome of this plan is that the college should not be affected by a recent decision by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deny visas to international students who would only be able to take online courses while living on campuses in the U.S.

“Our institutional policy … is that international students have to be in at least 9 hours of classes on ground, if they’re in this country,” said ACC vice president for student affairs Cynthia Jacobson.

This is actually the typical policy for ACC and other institutions, she said, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rule prohibiting international students from taking only online courses had been waived.

Institutions like Harvard and MIT had wanted the waiver to remain in place, and so are suing the Trump administration over the DHS/ICE policy, saying it’s a matter of public health, since it’s arguably safer for some students to both remain in the U.S. while also taking all their courses online.

On the flipside, Jacobson said “[ACC has] a number of students who aren’t going to be able to get out of their country, because they have travel restrictions to the U.S.,” including from Europe.

“Our biggest issue with our internationals is their inability to get here.”

This is because the European Union and elsewhere have deemed the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. as acutely dangerous.

Those students are “either going to start or continue their classes with us online,” said Jacobson, “and hopefully in the spring semester they’re going to be able to travel here.”

Not surprisingly, then, “our international population will be down this fall,” she said. “Though for us it isn’t as great an impact,” in contrast to other colleges and universities.

Nonetheless, suggested Jacobson, any loss of international students is in turn a cultural loss both for the college and for the community.

“It’s beneficial for our students to interact with students from other cultures. Diversity and equity are really important to us,” she said.

ACC international students that can ultimately travel to the U.S. will be permitted to stay on campus early, so that they can quarantine for an appropriate amount of time.

Aug. 3 will be those students’ last day to arrive, since courses begin on Aug. 17.

As a safety precaution, ACC is also planning to test all students and athletes living on campus for COVID-19, said Jacobson.

“We don’t want to put the community here at risk,” she said. “[We] would feel terrible if we brought in students … who became ill and then spread it to the community.”

Testing of this kind is also important, she said, because many students living on campus are coming from other “hot spot” states across the country such as Florida and Texas.

These students are likewise being notified so that they can arrive on campus early for testing and quarantining.

If the situation regarding COVID-19 changes between now and the beginning of the fall term, say, by continuing to significantly worsen across the U.S., ACC has a contingency plan.

“Things could change dramatically,” said Jacobson.

“Say we get to October and decide it’s just not safe for students to be on-ground anymore; at that point in time we’ll contact our international [student] representatives,” as well as make any other necessary changes such as were made during the spring semester.

For now, however, the goal is to meet as normally as possible, though there will be a number of changes “to make sure classes are safe.”

For instance, Jacobson said some classes will be scheduled in larger spaces to help with social distancing.

Some classes will be split into smaller groups, so as to reduce the number of students in constant contact with one another.

The wearing of masks is not only strongly encouraged, but given the mandate in Allen County, will be a requirement while indoors.

Instructors are also being encouraged to move activities online, such as having students turn in assignments over the internet rather than in person.

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