Cal State San Bernardino President Tomás D. Morales was one of five education leaders who as part of an education roundtable talked about how they and their institutions have had to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and its effects.

Morales participated in the Greater Ontario Business Council Pancakes & Politics Education Roundtable virtual webinar held on Sept. 16. The webinar’s topic was Education in the Midst of a Pandemic. More than 60 people attended the webinar.

Along with Morales, who is in his ninth year in leading CSUSB, the other education leaders were: Henry Shannon, president of Chaffey College; James Hammond, superintendent of the Ontario-Montclair Unified School District; and Matthew Holton, superintendent of the Chaffey Joint Union High School District. Peggi Hazlett, chief executive officer of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, served as the moderator.

Shannon said Chaffey College moved into what it calls the “new normal” in mid-March. The college used its spring break and extended it so that faculty could be educated on how to teach online. About 225 faculty became astute and skilled on teaching online. The college has moved from 225 faculty to over 1,050 who are skilled at online teaching.

“We now go through a protocol on how to be effective instructors and it has worked very well for us,” Shannon said.

Holton said the high schools in the Chaffey Joint Union High School District have had to deal with what seems like a constant state of pivoting because of the COVID rates, which went up and own during the summer.

“We had full plans to return in the hybrid model because that’s what was allowed by the state at the time and things just really shifted in July,” Holton said. “We started in the first part of August with full distance learning across the board and we have consistent conversations with our staff, with our parents making sure they are aware of where we are at.”

Hammond said one of the issues they have had to deal with is the lack of face-to-face time with students.

“Nothing replaces face-to-face, in-person interaction in regards to the nurturing and caring of an adolescent,” Hammond said. “But in this pandemic, when things have to be virtual we’re trying to find ways where the health and wellness is constantly monitored.”

He said that they want their students in small groups, 4-6 students, “to go into breakout rooms, not necessarily with the teacher of record because we have instructional aides that can help and we want to construct the right type of activities in these small breakout rooms for 10 minutes independent of the teacher so that there is an outcome, so that when they reengage into the larger group, they have an outcome to talk about,” Hammond said.

Morales talked about how CSUSB has operated and dealt with and continues to deal with various issues such as virtual instruction; how it is working to ensure the safety of students and employees; funding in the wake of budget cuts; helping students with an affordable textbook program; working with school districts, community and business leaders to help prepare students for college and life after high school; and the digital divide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the digital divide was one of the two major issues that the state, the inland region and the university has had to deal with along with the pandemic.

“Here we are the fifth largest economy in the world and the only non-country in the top ten and we have a third world internet access to connectivity. Connectivity should be like electricity, like water, like plumbing,” Morales said. “It is just shameful that there are parts of our San Bernardino County, Riverside County that do not have access to the internet.”

He said along with the digital divide, students from lower income households have had to find ways to study and attend virtual classes as a result of the coronavirus.

“Then you have issues where students just don’t have the facilities at home to study, because they may share a room with three other siblings,” Morales said. “I hear from my students that they study in the bathroom so they can have some quiet space. The socioeconomic status is playing a very significant role during this pandemic.”

Morales said the other issue is dealing with the coronavirus itself.

“We should be, as a society, well beyond where we are today,” Morales said. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t decide you’re not going to wear a mask, right, because somehow your civil liberties are going to be challenged, and think we’re going to open up businesses. The virus is very serious, very serious, and until we as a society realize that, from the top down, this is going to continue well into 2021.”

Morales said the California State University and its 23 campuses will continue virtual instruction through 2021 in the spring term. The CSU was among the first in the nation to commit to a primarily virtual instruction for fall 2020.

He said CSUSB has taken a fairly conservative approach so 98 percent of the university’s instruction is being delivered virtually and all of its services such as tele-health, tele-psychological counseling services, registrar, mutual aid and other offices are being delivered virtually.

Morales said the CSUSB administrative cabinet, which meets every morning to discuss COVID-19 and related issues, approved several research projects that faculty had requested to have access to their research facilities and approved requests by master of fine art students who requested space to finish their art projects so they could graduate this year.

The president was asked by a member of the audience about how the university is dealing with the Black Lives Matter movement and the cultural shift that has happened on campuses.

Morales said the university has embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. “We embrace the dismantling of the caste system that exists in this country. We reject white supremacy. I make no bones about it,” Morales said. “And every single citizen in this country, regardless of race or gender, should get on board and realize that there is a disparity in equal opportunity, a disparity in educational opportunity, there’s violence against certain members of our society. That just simply needs to stop.”

Learn more about the Greater Ontario Business Council at its website.