NORFOLK, Neb. – In late March, Northeast Community College adopted distance learning delivery of its courses for its faculty and students and allowed many other employees the option to work remotely in anticipation of a possible stay-at-home order as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Although the order was never issued, the College has been developing a plan to operate with a limited number of employees and students through the summer and is looking at additional measures for the fall semester.
“We need to return to a more personal business approach based on a philosophy of academic excellence and the safety of our faculty, staff and students,” said Leah Barrett, president. “As the pandemic progresses, Northeast Community College is evaluating various ways to resume some of the services on our campuses to accommodate the needs of our students and constituents.”
Northeast operates its main campus in Norfolk with extended campuses in O’Neill, South Sioux City and West Point, and regional offices in Ainsworth and Hartington.
The Northeast COVID-19 Recovery Team has been working on designing a business continuity plan that includes facility adjustments and guidelines, practices and procedures to ensure that the College functions effectively and safely.
Since late March, buildings at all Northeast locations have been closed to the public. Under the new business continuity plan, there will be public access to a limited number of facilities beginning in June. Instruction over the summer will mainly occur in a remote format, with some students on campus in hands-on classes with social distancing in place. By June 1, academic departments will have finalized their course plans for the fall semester so that new students will know the instructional delivery format when they register for classes. This will include hands-on options, synchronous and online delivery formats.
Barrett said Northeast is working on plans now to operate safely in the months ahead.
“We want to take the next month to prepare our campuses to ensure everyone feels safe working in this new environment.”
This preparation includes placing partitions in frontline areas and make certain social distancing measures are in place for reception areas, service counters, and in open office areas. The College will also take additional measures to ensure classrooms and lab areas are reorganized by incorporating social distancing in the context of the learning environment.
Also, in June, Northeast Community College will bring a limited number of employees back to its campuses in a staggered or staged approach incorporating a combination of work from home and work in College offices. Barrett said this method of work will likely be in place as the threat of COVID-19 persists, which could be for several weeks, most of the summer, and even into the fall.
“We will continue to seek guidance from state and area public health agencies which may mean an increase or decrease in the number of employees on site and the number of buildings open.”
In addition, the College will provide facemasks to all staff and faculty and encourage them to wear them. A group of employees plans to set up a sewing room to make masks for all employees who have a desire to wear one - or they can wear one of your own.
Barrett said it has been a challenge to plan for the months ahead not knowing how long the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 will persist.
“What we look like on June 21 may be very different than September 1, but academic excellence and the safety and the health of our College community will be at the forefront of opening and in the management of facilities and the number of employees working on our campuses. We will need to be nimble and flexible as we progress through these uncharted times,” she said. “However, I am confident our business continuity plan approach to reopening can bring some normalcy back into our lives.”