Sumter colleges continue adjustments amid coronavirus

Fall semester is work in progress; on-campus plans not certain


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It's been a daily work in progress and continues to be such for the Sumter region's main two public colleges as they try to prepare for the fall term, given COVID-19.

Officials at both University of South Carolina Sumter and Central Carolina Technical College spoke Monday on plans for the fall and challenges related to in-person, classroom instruction beginning in August.

Both colleges have advanced their various online tools and live Zoom services for students and faculty since the spread of the coronavirus began in March across the nation.

On Monday - for the first time since March - Central Carolina began allowing visitors and students on its main campus for face-to-face student services by appointment. Prior to that, those services were offered via Zoom, phone, email and other methods.

Face masks and six-foot social distancing are regular protocol in all buildings, according to Cathy Frye, the college's creative director in the public relations department.

With the beginning of in-person services, CCTC is also using a virtual waiting system app, named QLess, which allows a user to make an appointment online, be placed in a queue and receive notifications, rather than physically waiting in line.

Central Carolina has been offering classes online since March and also in some hybrid formats since April. The hybrid format is for classes with a lab component and allows 10 or fewer students to meet in person with an instructor when necessary, she said.

Fall semester classes at CCTC are scheduled to begin Aug. 24 and will continue in online and hybrid formats with face-to-face, on-campus classes when allowed, Frye said.

With the spike in COVID-19 cases in the last month across the state and nation, college administration is trying to determine the appropriate course of action with on-campus classes, she said.

"The on-campus part is what we are not decided on yet," Frye said.

The college hopes to make a decision on that front soon, she added.

On Monday, South Carolina continued its streak of high COVID-19 case counts when state health officials reported 1,505 new coronavirus cases. That brings the total number of cases identified in the Palmetto State since March up to 46,247. Six more people died after contracting COVID-19, bringing the death toll in South Carolina to 819, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

USC Sumter

USC Sumter has gone on record saying its plan is for some in-person classes on campus when the fall semester begins Aug. 20, but Dean Michael Sonntag said Monday that the plan could still change.

Like CCTC, USC Sumter has done a lot of behind-the-scenes preparations.

Sonntag said initially this summer, college administration changed class-size limits and mapped out major classrooms to incorporate social-distancing guidelines.

Face masks would also be required in buildings and classrooms.

Sonntag also noted the Palmetto College - which is directly over the state's four regional campuses that include USC Sumter - released last week its reopen and risk mitigation plan, but it's based on conditions.

"The document is fluid and will change with conditions," he said.

At this point, he said it's best to describe the fall semester plan for coursework as some combination of online, face-to-face and some hybrid classes as well.

It's been difficult to make plans, given so many variables that come into play for most colleges.

"We just want to make sure that we can provide the best possible experience for our students and faculty and staff," Sonntag said. "But we have dual-enrollment students in the high schools, so this is a very complex process for us because we're not just talking about our schedule; we're talking about schedules that interact with dozens of other schedules. So, every day it's a new kind of adjustment. That's challenging, but so far my team has been doing a good job with it."