Transcript: Our First COVID-19 Live Chat with RSCCD Chancellor Marvin Martinez

chancellor martinez live stream 3-26

The most recent news this morning is that we have our district’s first confirmed case of COVID-19: a part-time employee at SCC’s health and wellness center. Could you explain a little more about this case and whether or not this means the virus is spreading among the district community.  

Marvin Martinez: So here’s what we know so far. Information is always and continues to be gathered, so we can have more of a complete picture. So what we know is that the medical doctor that provides the services to students at the Student Health and Wellness Center at Santiago Canyon College. We were notified yesterday in the late afternoon that he tested positive and he heard about that on March 12th, which is a Thursday. And of course, you know, we didn’t receive notification till yesterday.

So, obviously, we began after that to do our homework and to backtrack. He did inform us who he may have exposed being there at the Student Health and Wellness Center. So he did inform us and we did begin to make contact yesterday and tomorrow morning with some of the staff and students that he may have come in contact with. We have made contact with all of them and all of them have told us they are showing no symptoms, that they are fine, that they’re in good shape.

Obviously, we advise them to still call the hotlines that exist out there to determine if they are showing any symptoms so they can call them. Of course, we also made contact with the Orange County Public Health Department to let them know and they advised us also what we needed to do. They also told us that for those individuals that show no symptoms, obviously, don’t go to the hospital today. The hospitals are just inundated with people and they’re only serving individuals that had tested positive with the virus. So, in other words, if you have a sore throat and you think you have the virus, don’t go to the hospital. You should just call them and let them know the symptoms that you have and they’ll let you know whether to come in or not. So, we did share that information, but again, to me, the good news is that the individuals that were exposed, are showing no symptoms.”

The biggest question most students have is whether or not temporary remote instruction will continue for the remainder of the semester. 

So, that’s a really good question. We’re looking to make a decision on that early next week. Will be in consultation with the faculty, of course, consultation with our other constituents, and other various unions, classified staff, obviously, the Board of Trustees and I’m hoping that we can make a decision by Wednesday at the latest. I’m leaning towards us, completing this semester, not only through T.R.I., temporary remote instruction, but even extending that to the end of the summer session.

Let me give you the reasons why. Again, it’s just me right now and I haven’t had a chance to talk with everyone thus far. The reason is that, yesterday, Governor Newsome announced in his press conference that he anticipates the shutdown, the stay-at-home order shut down, to be in place for probably the next 12 weeks. So if you divide 12 by four. Yes, that’s four months, basically. So for the next four months, we could be with the stay home or order. 

So, having said that, you know, to me, it makes sense to at least the end of the summer. What I also don’t want to do, because we basically have about 10 weeks, 10 to 11 weeks, left in the semester. What I don’t want to do is at the fifth week, with maybe a month left, is all of a sudden tell the campus communities ‘No, let’s stop what we’re doing. Let’s go, face to face’. It is difficult to turn this big ship around to all of a sudden have it go in another direction. It’ll create chaos. It’s taking a lot of work for everybody, everyone to get to the point where we are today. A lot of work from students and a lot of work from faculty and for me then just to say, ‘Hey, hold on. Three weeks left in the semester. Let’s change again.’ To me, that’s not a good direction to take, but also given what we’re hearing and given what the governor stated yesterday, I am gonna advocate that we complete the semester through remote instruction and there we go as far as the summer session. I am sure that the way things are going, that by May or June, we’ll know more whether it needs to be extended even more. All of us are hearing different news every day about this.

I think, to me, the bottom line is that I definitely don’t want to bring students to the campus back until we know it’s completely safe. I don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s health. I don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s lives by having you come to the campus when we’re not sure. To me, that’s not a good direction to take. We’re hoping to release an official notice. I’ll send an email out to the district and to students. I’m hoping by next Wednesday.

How else is the COVID-19 virus shutdown impacting the district? What immediate effects of the district wide shutdown have you seen in enrollment? In overall employee morale?

All good questions. So let me start with enrollment Lesly, it’s kind of early to tell yet because we’ve been checking and so far enrollments look good, actually. A lot of students have continued with taking classes. We haven’t really seen any drops at all. The classes that we’ve had to drop, for example, there was some classes over at SCC, in theater arts, that were aligned with the production of Cabaret, which is going to be a play. Obviously, we’re not going to do the play anymore. Doesn’t make sense to offer those classes.

But for the most part, the enrollment is good and a lot of classes. Students seem to be participating well. We will continue looking and checking enrollments to see if we see any drops. Both campuses, SAC and SEC, are conducting surveys of students to ask them questions. You know, ‘how you doing?’, ‘how do you like to transition?’, ’are you taking classes or did you drop because you don’t have a laptop or you don’t have access to the internet at home?’. So we’re asking all those questions because we need to know. If a student has dropped, we want to know why. Was it that they just don’t like remote instruction, it’s not for them or is it that they just don’t have a good reliable laptop they can depend upon or is it that they just don’t have the internet ‘cause many students would go to Starbucks so they can use it. We can’t do that any longer. They’re closed. So what are the options for students to be able to access the classes? Well the only way they can do it now is they don’t.

Hopefully we can get some feedback quickly. I think the survey they did at SAC, it should be just about completed. I’m hoping to have some of those results by the end of this week and I do want to know how students are doing.

Right now, the only information that we have, Lesly, is anecdotal and you can’t do that with a place like SAC. SAC has over 2,000 courses they’re offering. So I need to know, as best as possible, how the majority of students are doing, not just two or three, for me to be able to make some policies that affect everybody. 

SCC is also doing a similar survey, so hopefully we can get that information too and we can make some decisions there. So, the enrollment situation, again, I hear it’s good, but we’ll continue to get updates from the colleges and from the faculty and from the administration.

In regards to the transition, to me, here’s a way to look at it, Lesly, of the transition that we’ve made. Everything that we do on this campus from all the job descriptions that everybody has from classified staff, even for what I do, everything is designed for us to do it here on the campus, to do it here in your classrooms. Everything’s designed for us to do things face to face, and now, that’s no longer the case. 

Just to give you an example, if you’re a custodian, you could only do your work on a campus. You can’t do that at home. You could only help to do the maintenance work on a campus. So, how do you repurpose that person? Who now do they work remotely or is it possible to do that? In regards to classes, I know that it was a challenge for the CTE classes. Let’s take a class like welding over at SAC. The way students are graded is they’re graded upon how they can use that welding machine, can they weld? How do you do that online? My response to faculty has been, ‘Gotta figure it out because we’re going into this direction and you’re gonna have to figure it out.’ I don’t think that the solution is to ask students to come back to the campus so they can do a demonstration. A lot of students don’t want to come back because they’re scared. They don’t want to be around someone that they believe may have the virus. We got to figure out how we can do everything online, even for our meetings. I’m sure you and Ashley and all of us are trying to get used to conducting meetings in this manner. I’m getting used to it now because I’ve done several now in the last few days, but, at first, it was awkward. All of us are used to seeing each other, but we just have to get used to the “new normal” as we keep saying. I think that’s been the biggest transition. And just to think about this, Lesly, this has transpired over the last two to three weeks.

I reported it to the board at the board meeting on Monday. I told them at the board meeting in March 9. At the board meeting of March 9, I told the board at that time that the directive we have from the governor was to monitor everything, make sure everything is going okay, make sure that people are washing their hands. Then four days later, March 12, is when the governor issued his first major executive order. He said that he wanted to cancel or he wanted to postpone mass gatherings. He wanted to ensure that we were following the social distancing of six feet or more.

Our world was turned upside down on March 12. Then the following Thursday, on March 19, he issued his stay-at-home order. So here we are, a week later, after that order and all of our lives have changed and how we do everything.

So, right now, all of our curriculum is basically online, as of March 12. Almost 80% of the courses of both campuses were done face to face. Now, two weeks later, it’s 100% online. Just think about that for a second. It would normally take an institution like SAC or SCC three to five years to do what we’re doing right now, but we did it in a very short time period. I’m thankful to everybody for making that incredible work happen and also thankful to students. Most of the e-mails that I received from students, basically has been, ‘Thank you for moving in this direction,’ because they were scared of being in the classroom. They wanted to see that we make a change right away. But it happened. We’re trying to do the best we can. At this point, I do need to hear back from students as to ‘How’s it going now?’ ‘How do we make it better?’ Again, I want to know from those students that dropped and get an idea of why they dropped the class and what can we do about it so they can come back and be enrolled in classes.

Right now, it’s a really great time to outreach to everybody because nobody can go anywhere. Most of us are doing what we’re doing right now. We’re on a computer and we’re looking at each other and that’s all you could do. You can’t go anywhere. You can’t go to Starbucks. You can’t go to the movies. You can’t go to a restaurant. You can’t do anything. So it’s a perfect time for us to outreach to students online.

Since about 80 percent of our course offerings are in-person, are you concerned about access and equity in learning environments and overall instruction? Given that most of our students prefer in-person instruction, are faculty prepared to teach at the same level and quality they usually provide?

I believe they are. I believe also for those who may be felt that they were not ready have risen to the challenge. Look, I would love to tell you that everybody was ready for this transition. I think we do have a number of faculty who have been teaching online for quite a while. They were obviously ready. We had other faculty who were curious and they wanted to try it. Well now many of them are ready. I’m sure we have faculty that say ‘No, that’s not what I want to do. I love looking at my students and being there.’ They’ve also made the change.

There’s nothing like a crisis like the one that we had that really posed a challenge to faculty members and that challenge was unique to do this because if you want to continue in the mode of being in the classroom, being face to face, it’s just not gonna to happen. It’s not gonna happen because students won’t want to come to the classroom. They’re not going to want to be in the classroom where they may feel they’re in danger. So there will be a public outcry. Students saying, ‘No way, I’m not gonna be there.’ So you need to make that adjustment for that major reason to watch out for the welfare of your student.

I believe that most have made the adjustments, even from individuals that I call the ‘diehards’, they just didn’t want to change. I think they had made the adjustment. I’ll tell you most have responded really well. Many faculty members who had not offered classes online before really enjoy it now. They tell me that even those students that were quiet in the class are now participating and they’re actively asking questions. For some students, it’s given them like some new life to be active participants or maybe in the classroom they didn’t raise their hand or they didn’t want to appear that they didn’t know the subject matter. Now, by being online, they’re able to type their questions through the chat area and ask those questions. I’m really proud of the changes that we’ve made. It’s amazing. It’s really amazing. I’ve been at this for thirty-one years and I’ve never seen what is happening today occur. We’ve been talking about this ed plan for a very long time and in two weeks we moved from basically maybe 10% of our courses being offered online to 100%. It’s just amazing what’s happened.

Having said that, the next challenge for us is how do we continue to improve on the quality [of the classes]. How do we ensure that this is the best technology. There’s always challenges. I’m sure all of you heard about Zoom calls. What do you call it now, the “Zoom bombs”. I heard that’s a word where they’re hijacked by others. 

What singular message would you like to communicate to all students and RSCCD employees right now?

My first single message is just to continue with your education. You can’t stop now. You need to continue. You can’t slow down and I’m hoping students don’t drop. I’m hoping students don’t change their mind, but they continue with this.

I feel that what we’re going through right now will have an impact in the workforce. Yes, there’s a lot of people who are being laid off and you’re watching it on TV. But as certain jobs close down, there’ll be some new jobs opening. I’m sure you heard that certain businesses, certain industries are flourishing with what’s going on today. There is more laptops that are being sold than ever. I’m sure now more and more will be invested to make the laptops even better than the one that we’re using right now because everybody’s using them right now to do distance ed.

I am sure other technologies that are related to remote instruction will get even better. I’m sure the zoom call we’re using now, a year from today, will be even better. All these industries will create new jobs and some of these jobs didn’t even exist today, but they’ll be created because of the need that we have today.

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I’m advising students to stay in school, to continue with school. Don’t drop, if you get discouraged, please let us know what we need to do better. You know, we established a hotline on our website for anyone to send us questions. We’re averaging about 100-150 questions per day, from students and staff and others asking us questions about everything. We want to be able to answer your question. 

If you know of any students that have concerns, please ask them to go through that venue to ask those questions that we’ll get back to them. Or if they want to let us know, ‘look, I don’t have the resources to buy internet service,’ we will help them figure that out.

We are in contact with the private sector right now, for example, we’re in contact with AT&T, to see how we can come up with a way where they can be able to provide internet services to students. Then we’d figured out a way to cover those costs or subsidize them a lot so students have access to the internet.

We’re trying to do what we can because we see the writing on the wall. The writing on the wall is the new normal is what me and you are doing right now, Lesly. That’ll be the new normal. I believe that this is gonna happen because just don’t think that this will go away for quite a while. So, we want to make sure that for those students that don’t have the resources that we can work with private sector companies like AT&T, who are in the business of selling you Internet, that we can come up a way to work with them so we can make it accessible to all students at the lowest prices possible. 

So talking about student resources, you have a question from Instagram where they are asking about, first, receiving their fees for the parking permit, will they be getting reimbursed for that? And that goes along with other fees.

We’re looking at that right now to see if we’re able to give the fees back. How much of the fee we can give back. You know, because students have been in the semester almost halfway. If they would get their fee back, it won’t be the full fee, it’ll be prorated, if that makes sense. We should have a decision made relatively soon of how that happens and how that occurs. You can imagine once we let everybody know, everybody will be there. There’ll be a long line. We want to make sure that we do it right because there will be a long line of students.

We also understand. Everyone is short of cash today. There’s not a lot of jobs out there and all of us can use all the resources that we can get so we get that. We’re just trying to make sure that we do it right. ‘Cause the way that parking works is that if you’re here full-time, you pay $30 for parking for the semester and if you’re part-time, you’ll pay $20.

I think we’re at least midway through the semester or a little bit past midway. So obviously we’re not going to return your full $30, it’ll be prorated on the basis of when we made the decision to go into remote instruction. So I do want to let students know that at this point. At this point, we’re trying to find out when we can do that and where. What we’re also trying to avoid is students gathering in mass and that’s against the order right now. The stay-at-home order. We’re trying to figure out how that would happen where students are not in line nor in bus stops. But good question, Ashley. [30:27]

You did mention this a little bit about our students, unfortunately, they have been losing their jobs and are in a financial strain. So, what is RSCCD doing to support those students? Are there any plans to face these financial hardships? I know you talked about giving out computers and with the internet, but are there any other plans?

Well, I know both campuses are looking to see how they can reopen their food pantries. I think SAC is trying to make a decision as to what to do with their farmers market. Well, today because we closed down SCC, we had to cancel the distribution of food today and laptops. We’ll continue with those next week, so we can help students with food. In regards to other resources that we can provide, I’m sure you’re hearing about the stimulus package that’s coming out that I think was approved, yesterday, by the Senate. The House of Representatives was going to discuss it today. I don’t know, I assume it got approved already or if it’s not gonna be approved yet, I’m sure it’s gonna get approved any time. In a stimulus package, they will be providing checks to people, depending on what your income is. If you’re not married, you get up to 1200 dollars. If you’re married, you can get up to $2,400, again, depending upon your income level and that will help when those checks come out to everybody. 

As soon as the information becomes final, we do want to let students know about that part of the stimulus package because I have to assume a lot of our students may be eligible for those checks because they should fall within that income level. So that will definitely help. 

You heard the governor, yesterday, where he said that if you are unemployed, go apply for unemployment benefits right away. They waived the one week wait period. Usually if you get laid off, you have to wait a week before you could apply for unemployment benefits. That’s no longer there. You can apply right now right away and it can help you with that. 

I am asking our foundations to begin to look into fundraising drives, so we can begin to raise money to help students with other costs because there’s still a need for books. There’ll still be to cover the cost of books. There’ll still be a need, as we talked before, about paying the Internet. There will still be a need for students to get a better laptop. Some of them may not have the best or most updated laptop. So we need to make sure that you have better equipment. We’re continuing to look for ways to continue to help students

Yes. And, you know, obviously, in the long run when classes do open up, do we have a strategic plan to maintain a clean and healthy learning environment when classes resume? What is custodial staff doing right now? If so, what are they? If not, what would that plan look like?

What a lot of our custodial staff and maintenance operations are doing is deep cleaning the campuses and disinfecting every building meticulously since we’ve been on remote instruction. Obviously, we’re probably going to continue with that if we end the semester and continue the summer session with remote instruction so we’ll continue to make sure that’s what happens.

The interesting challenge for all of us is if we do go back face to face, what will change? What will be some of the new guidelines that the governor or the State Chancellor’s Office will provide as to how we keep the campuses clean. I’m sure you heard what was stated in regards to the virus, even if it goes away, they’ll come back in waves. So, we want to be prepared for that.

They describe the coronavirus just like the flu. You know that we have the flu every year. And even though we have, you know, antibiotics, you can take or other medicines, people still catch the flu. The way they describe the virus is that it could still be around like the flu. So that’s scary to think about. I think that if they say that, ‘we’re going to lift this executive order and everybody can come back into the classrooms,’ I think the questions will be, ‘How do we keep the campuses clean?’, ‘Should we come back to 100% face to face?’, ‘Should we maybe just look at 50% face to face, and 50% online?’. It’s hard to tell today. It really is difficult to tell where we’re going. Lesly, to be honest with you, it is hard to project what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone, five, six months from today. And the impact, everything that we are experiencing with the COVID-19 will have in our everyday lives and how it will change educational institutions. We’re facing significant changes just like K through 12.

Right now, even our childcare centers are closed. Everything’s closed because everything is face to face. The impact will be that we will need to have almost like a hybrid process situation where maybe half of the classes are still done online and other half are not. The reason is because I think what we learned through this process is that when you create the social distancing and you limit mass gatherings, then you have a lesser probability of the virus being spread. I think that theme will continue, even if we come back, how do we ensure that we don’t have a lot of people on the campus all at the same time. I know you were planning to ask me about the graduation ceremonies.

According to the stay-at-home orders, it would prevent us from doing that, we had to do it today. I don’t think that it will be lifted by the time we have our graduation ceremonies. So I’ve asked staff to come up with options, ‘How do we do the ceremony remotely?’, ‘Is it possible to do that?’, ‘How do we still have a graduation?’. I do expect to make that announcement sometime next week about ceremonies. If I was to do it today, we can’t. We would be in violation of the Stay-at-Home order. Whether we think it’ll be lifted by the time that our graduation ceremonies happen, I don’t think that’s gonna happen, not after what we heard yesterday. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it is. We’ll make an official statement next week. The reason it’s such an agonizing decision, Lesly, is because we want students to go through that experience. For many of us who’ve gone through those experiences, we will always remember it. There’s nothing like it. So that’s what’s agonizing about it. Obviously, the last thing we want to do is to bring 2,000 people together. So yeah, so we’ll try to make a decision. You know, next week.

So we have a couple questions from Instagram. People are talking a lot about our custodial staff. That’s been a big topic on our Instagram right now. We want to know, we have some students asking are we getting any form of compensation for being on campus, any hazard pay, any protective equipment. So, they’re just really worried about custodial health. They’re making sure that they are okay in addition to everyone else. 

All good questions. So Monday, our Board of Trustees approved a memo of understanding with our classified Union so that we can pay a differential, a 5% differential, to staff that comes to the campus as key-essential workers. So under Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order, he identified essential agencies and colleges were identified as one of those essential agencies. For those essential agencies, he defined what an essential worker was. So an essential worker is someone that we need in order to perform the central functions of running an agency like a community college. So some of those essential workers happened to be custodians. With the memo of understanding that was approved by our board, now, they will be compensated for coming to the campus as essential workers. So if you’re home and you’re just you’re working remotely, obviously you’re not receiving that compensation. This is only for those individuals that are coming to the campus and so that’s how we’re compensating them.

You did mention the Dons’ Corner Farmers Market. Unfortunately, the Don’s Corner couldn’t operate today. More than 50 percent of community college students statewide come to class each day hungry. What is the district doing to assist at-risk and food-insecure students during this crisis?

What we can do is kind of similar to what SCC is doing. So SCC is doing the food pantry where you know they drive, it’s like a drive through. They’ll give you a bag filled with food and other goods and maybe Santa Ana College can do something similar.

Because I understand the concept behind the farmers market. You know, it’s an opportunity for everybody to walk around and you’re kind of picking vegetables and everything that you need and you put them in a bag and you go home.

To me, the whole issue in essence of that was to create a social community and I get that. Obviously, we can’t do that any longer, but the other purpose of the market was to give students food. So maybe they could look to give students food just like the way SCC is doing and just have students drive, do like a drive through, and they drive, and someone hands them a bag filled with food and they can do that. I’m going to speak with them to see if they can move in that direction.

Because I don’t think students at this point, obviously, want to gather in any mass gathering anyway. I’m sure that they would love to get a bag full of food and goods, so I’ll ask them to do it that way.

There are concerns about students not being able to access the pantry through cars and use other channels like public transportation. Are there any alternatives for them if they’re not able to do the drive-through?

I’ll ask them to create alternatives because, you’re right, not all students have a car. So you can’t drive through if you don’t have a car. I think over at SCC they have provided students the options where you can drive through and also for those students that don’t have a car, they have a booth set up and they can just pick up a bag and they go. I believe that there’s still public transportation, that’s still open, so they can take public transportation. I’ll ask SAC to do something similar to give students options specifically if you don’t have a car. You can’t do a drive through if you don’t have a car.

Alright, so I think we came to a conclusion, you know, to an end of this meeting. Is there anything else that you’d like to say to everyone that we haven’t touched on that you want to comment on?

So I’d like, number one, what we did just now (the live interview), I would welcome. If you want to do it on a regular basis. I’ve concluded, Lesly and Ashley, that the best ways to deal with a crisis is through communication. The more that we communicate the better.

We’re going through such a new challenge. We don’t always have all the answers, so we also can’t think of all the other questions there may be out there. One way to address the concerns or questions that may be out there is for us to have these kinds of forums where you get to ask me questions, or other members of the public get to participate and ask questions.

And also, this could be a way for me to tell you about the progress that we’re making. About other significant changes that are occurring.

Because there is a lot of significant changes, from looking at continuing our semester through remote instruction and possibly the summer to making a decision on graduation ceremonies. So, major stuff that really changes the scope of who we are as an institution. Again, one of the best ways to deal with the crisis is to communicate. So, I would certainly welcome, if you want to do this on a regular basis. I dont want to give you more work to do, you’re a student, you’re preparing for exams and everything else. But let me know, i’m happy to inform students. I don’t want to do everything in writing, as you know, I’ve been sending out emails to all of you.

Many times we need to see each other in any way to ensure that we’re doing okay and we’re still human beings, we’d like to see each other. I certainly welcome these kinds of forums and opportunities to communicate with all of you and to best answer the questions you may have.

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