Campus: SMC is preparing to return to in-person classes with a soft opening this month. Daniel Farr

All signs point to Santa Monica College welcoming back students for in-person learning come Jan. 4 according to information presented to the SMC Board this week.

As part of their preparations for returning students to campus, officials are testing some opening procedures this month and educating themselves on the perils of fake vaccination cards.

“The operations department is gearing up now for winter and spring semesters. We are placing orders for additional Plexiglas barriers, safety equipment, as well as classroom supplies such as disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer,” Devin Starnes Director, Facilities Management said at the SMC Board meeting this week. “Very soon, we’ll be on-boarding temporary staff to focus on higher-touch point cleaning, and to regularly replenish classroom supplies and sanitizing stations. And most importantly, that the campus is welcoming for returning faculty, staff and students.”

The school will conduct a soft-opening on Oct. 11. The Admissions and Records, Welcome Center, Financial Aid and International Education offices will be available for students to use Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

“I am happy to report that after 19 long months of a fairly empty Student Services Building, we will be welcoming students back into the building on a drop-in basis,” Teresita Rodriguez, Vice President of Enrollment Development said. “This is a soft reopening so we have yet to publicize it and that’s intentional. We do want to begin the operation with a very small footprint. Work out the bugs, look at traffic patterns, make sure all the safety protocols are in place before we broaden the footprint.”

SMC will enforce social distancing and mask-wearing. Students will also be screened before they enter the building for compliance with their vaccination policy. The intention is to expand both hours of operations and the number of students that are served at a time as safety protocols dictate.

“In preparation for winter and spring we are evaluating processes and determining types of safety controls which would be necessary for each specific process,” Daniel Phillips Assistant Director, Safety and Risk Management said. “We are working closely with departments to provide support and ensure a smooth transition back to on ground“

SMC requires a vaccine to attend in-person activity and staff are keeping an eye on those pesky fake vaccination cards. According to staff members, the fake ones look extremely realistic and are keeping school officials on their toes.

“We have seen some vaccination cards that look a little interesting,” Dr. Susan Fila, the Interim Associate Dean of Health and Well-Being said. “Just last week, we had several come in with very similar lot numbers. And so the way that we investigated was we called the location where the vaccine was given to verify that it was in fact, a real lot number with the students permission, and it was in fact the correct lot number. So we haven’t confirmed any fake vaccination submissions.”

The school is concerned because it’s hard for them to get a good look at the cards since they are just getting a photocopy of a student’s vaccination card. In certain situations, they’ve asked for additional information when the information in the photocopy appears lacking.

Employees are also being asked for proof of a vaccine.

“I just wanted to add the employee perspective. So HR has come across at least one record that looked fishy,” Sherri Lee-Lewis, Vice President of Human Resources said. “But we did a little digging and actually spoke with the employee, you’ll be happy to know we have some staff members who were part of trials. You know, who went through the process early on before the vaccinations were even available to the public, the one that we questioned was because the dates were like in September, and we came to find out it was because they were part of the trial.”

Enrollment priority dates were released to students Monday along with all of their instructions for how to prepare for winter and spring, including a reminder that there is a mandatory vaccination requirement prior to enrollment. If the intention is to enroll in any on-ground classes, students who aren’t vaccinated or don’t want to be vaccinated will be directed to continue to take classes online. The winter schedule is posted and the spring schedule is currently being finalized and will be posted prior to winter enrollment beginning on Nov. 1.

SMC is currently 13 percent behind in credit enrollment and 18 percent behind in non-resident enrollment. Credit courses are designed for students who are interested in earning college units towards a degree or certificate. Students who take credit courses receive a letter grade at the end of the semester. Non-resident students are out-of-state and international students.

The school is seeing an uptick in international applications and they are working very closely with international students and particularly with the vaccination requirements since some countries do not have vaccinations readily available to them.

“It’s not a significant change from what we reported last month,” Rodriguez said. “And it won’t be a significant change next month. We’ve turned our attention primarily now to winter and spring 2022.”

daniel@smdp.com