UPDATED: Fear, frustration of SDCCD staff dominates the first fall trustees meeting

Public comments included a letter signed by 36 staff members

SDCCD Board of Trustees meet on Zoom

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board of Trustees met on Zoom on Aug. 26 and public comments left on on the district website were read aloud. YouTube screenshot

Jakob McWhinney, Multimedia Journalist

Clarification: The story has been updated to add references to three documents provided by the district on Aug. 30 and 31. That includes two district news releases from May 18 and August 10. City Times has also requested and was given a copy of an email sent to employees on July 1 referenced in the August 10 release. View the document here.

After review of the releases, it was the determination of the editorial team that changing, and in some cases, editing words and phrases to more appropriately reflect the information shared in the newly-acquired documents was necessary for clarity.

The San Diego Community College Board of Trustees held its first meeting of the fall semester on August 26, during which staff from the student services departments of all four campuses vented their fears and frustrations regarding the district’s recent decision to require them to return to campus amid rising COVID-19 numbers. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board meeting was conducted via Zoom and interested parties were encouraged to leave comments on the district website, which were then read aloud. Per district policy, public comments were limited to 20 minutes, a fact that rankled many respondents.

Of the 53 comments submitted to the SDCCD website, all but two echoed the fears of their colleagues at the prospect of returning to campus as the Delta variant washes over the region. 

On May 18, in a district news release, former Chancellor Constance Carroll stated that “the goal is to have many more classes and operations provided in-person and, by spring, to have the entire District reopened for in-person instruction and operations.”

On July 1, Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Greg Smith sent an email to employees that outlined the dates a return to campus may be required. Upon request, a copy of that email was provided to City Times by Jack Beresford, SDCCD director of communications and public relations on August 31.

“While employees may be required to return to work as outlined above, supervisors are encouraged to work with employees to continue to provide remote work flexibilities,” the email said. “If an employee can provide evidence that the place of care for an employee’s dependent is closed or no longer available due to COVID-19, the timelines for return to onsite work may be extended.”

The dates and the July 1 email were referenced in an August 10 update from current SDCCD Chancellor Carlos Cortez.

“The District is moving ahead with plans to safely reopen its campuses as we transition during the fall semester and prepare for the return to regular in-person operations by January 2022,” Cortez wrote.

City Times has requested an interview with district officials to further clarify the reopening timeline and expectations of staff and faculty.

At the August 26 meeting, a common complaint was that, instead of sticking to what was seen as a timeline of voluntarily returning to campus in fall 2021 in preparation for a full return in spring 2022, student services staff, such as academic counselors, felt a return to campus in the fall was being mandated.


“There is a collective sense from my many conversations with fellow employees that the current plan is hasty, not entirely well thought out, and could be a terrible, risk-laden detriment to the staff health,” wrote Brad Anderson, an administrative assistant for the district’s College of Continuing Education, in the public comment section.

Lisa Clarke, a counselor for Miramar College, questioned why administrators would send student services staff back to campus while the trustees still refrained from in-person meetings.

“At a time when cases are rising why would you put us out there like sacrificial lambs to try to raise enrollment?,” Clarke wrote in the same public comment section. “This district does not value its employees and treats us like we are expendable. The board doesn’t feel safe meeting with a limited amount of people? Yet, you expect us to face numerous students and areas that can’t be cleaned fast enough. Sad.”

Nicholas DeMeo, a counselor at Mesa College, echoed Clarke’s feeling of betrayal.

“This treatment is unfair, inhumane, and frankly I’ve never before felt ashamed of my school or my district until now,” DeMeo wrote.

City College counselor Bernice Lorenzo, who in 2019 was honored at California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s “Women of the Year” awards, questioned the motivation for the decision.

“We are told that the premature return to campus is for the students,” Lorenzo wrote. “Let us call a spade a spade. This is planning for the enrollment dollar. If we planned from the heart this would not be happening and student services staff would not be treated as dispensable.” 

According to a letter submitted to the board, more than 120 members of SDCCD staff met on August 20 to discuss their misgivings about the reopening plan.

“Counseling faculty, librarians, and classified professionals are the most diverse SDCCD employees throughout the district and we are not being given the same Covid 19 protections as our instructional colleagues, the majority of whom are continuing to work from home,” read the letter, signed by 36 staff members. 

City College counselor Nora Hinsley had concerns about the lopsided requirement to return to campus.

“Instructional faculty are given the privilege to only teach on campus if they are comfortable….,” Hinsley wrote. “Meanwhile, counseling faculty are told that they must come to work on campus- no if’s, and’s, or but’s. As a district that prides itself on equality and inclusiveness, what is being done is the opposite of those core values. Student Services are being asked to be the guinea pigs to this premature reopening plan.”

SDCCD Chancellor Carlos Cortez acknowledged the lagging enrollment numbers later in the meeting, saying that at present the district was at approximately 70% of its target enrollment numbers.

He added that actions were being taken, such as a robust marketing campaign, to bring those numbers up.

Board members were also given a presentation by Miramar Community College President Wesley Lundburg and Academic Senate President John Bromma about their work on a task force investigating the history, policies and practices of the SDCCD College Police.

The task force concluded with six recommendations, including the continuation of the task force into spring 2021, the establishment of a Crisis Counseling Response team to serve as initial responders intended to de-escalate events on campus, the creation of an advisory committee to oversee police practices, and the creation of a district-wide survey to ascertain the perception of college police amongst employees and students.

The survey, which was circulated in the spring 2021 semester, found that a majority of respondents approved of the actions and behavior of SDCCD police. 

75% of respondents believed both that SDCCD police involvement in the classroom should only occur if there are safety concerns, and they have an important role to play on campus.

55% agreed SDCCD police exercised good judgment and were there when they were needed. 67% felt comfortable contacting SDCCD police for assistance, 66% said SDCCD police care about their safety, but 65% still support better de-escalation training for faculty and staff. 

SDCCD police received some of their lowest ratings, 52%, 50% and 48% percent, respectively, when respondents were asked if they believe SDCCD police take responsibility for their actions, if they were proud of SDCCD police, and if SDCCD police enforce policies in an equitable manner.