Four of the state's 12 community colleges: Manchester Community College, top left; Gateway Community College, bottom left; Quinebaug Valley Community College, top right; and Tunxis Community College.

On the day before the start of the spring semester, community college faculty from around the state called for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities governing board to implement stricter COVID safety standards as they return to campuses in person.

During the Thursday press conference, faculty asked for the CSCU administration to distribute more N95 masks to students and employees at the colleges, ensure social distancing is enforced, improve telework accommodations, allow faculty to move classes fully online for the first two weeks of the semester and require proof of vaccination for all students and faculty.

“Community college faculty and staff are frustrated at the inconsistent and insufficient safety and security measures being taken in our community colleges,” said Seth Freeman, a professor at Capital Community College. “We are angered that by not meeting with faculty and staff, and only pushing in-person learning and in-person services, managers have ignored and continued to ignore the health and safety of vulnerable staff members and others in our community.”

Faculty members stressed the need for there to be “reasonable teleworking accommodations” as they or their family members might have medical conditions that require extensive care, adding that some of their students are choosing to be virtual to protect themselves.

Linda Stango, director of workforce transitions at Naugatuck Valley Community College, explained that she’s had to ask multiple times if she could telework so that she can take care of her mother, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness, but has yet to get a response.

“Our role here is to protect and to make sure that our students are safe, our faculty are safe, our administration, our staff, it’s everyone. Everyone in the institution,” said Dennis Bogusky, president of the Federation of Technical College Teachers and a professor at Norwalk Community College. “But it’s beyond the institution. Each of these people go home to a family, and we’re looking to keep their families safe as well by keeping them safe and not allowing these germs and this virus to be brought back in.”

Earlier this month, the CSCU system leaders announced that the spring 2022 semester will start as originally scheduled, a strategy that differed from that of many other colleges and universities around the state.

“The decision to begin our semester on-time was made with campus leaders in close consultation with public health partners and is responsive to our students, who have consistently requested that we do everything possible to offer in-person learning opportunities,” said Leigh Appleby, CSCU spokesperson, in an email.

The announcement stated that safety measures like wearing masks while indoors on campuses and COVID-19 vaccine requirements were to remain in place upon their return, but community college employees said they want to see stricter enforcement of the vaccine requirement.

At the community colleges, faculty and students attending courses in-person are required to fill out a form that asks them about their vaccination status and if they would like to request a medical or non-medical exemption.

This differs from the standards in place at the state universities, where students and faculty have to upload their vaccination cards for the university health service department to review and confirm.

Community college faculty said only attesting to vaccination status is not sufficient, and they want members of their campus communities to submit proof as well.

“I’m just surprised, shocked and heartbroken that we are having this conversation about 22 months out and [over 9,000] deaths in our state where people, the workers and the faculty, are asking for themselves and for their students for the common sense thing that we have been at the state asking for every single day,  people to get vaccinated … and you should have proof of your vaccination,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, during Thursday’s press conference.

Appleby said in an email that the community colleges have a system that protects student data and prioritizes accessibility. He added that the residential nature of the state universities makes a difference.

“Different institutions have different needs,” he said. “As such, the systems we have implemented meet the unique needs of each school. It has worked well in keeping our campuses safe for the past year.”

Appleby also explained that community colleges are operating with 20%-47% of their classes in-person this spring, which “helps to limit the onsite population.” He added that the state universities are operating with nearly 100% of their classes and services on ground and have nearly 8,000 students living on campus.

“Our students have made abundantly clear that they need in-person options, and we have proven over the past three semesters – in which we have seen virtually zero spread in academic settings – that we can do so safely,” he said. “We look forward to a safe and productive semester.”

Adria was CT Mirror's Education and Community Reporter. She grew up in Oakland, graduated from Sacramento State where she was co-news editor of the student newspaper, and worked as a part-time reporter at CalMatters. Most recently Adria interned at The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news organization that reports on criminal justice issues. Adria was one of CT Mirror’s Report For America Corps Members.