Some St. Clair College students petition school for online option amid Omicron surge

Some St. Clair College students are petitioning the school's administration to offer optional online classes for the winter semester, citing concerns over the spread of Omicron. 

The college is expecting to resume in-person classes Jan. 24

Right now, St. Clair College says the first week of classes starting Jan. 17 will be online and in-person classes will resume Jan. 24. But, not all students say they feel safe to go back. (Submitted by St. Clair College)

Some St. Clair College students are petitioning the school's administration to offer optional online classes for the winter semester, citing concerns over the spread of Omicron. 

An online petition, signed by about 1,500 students as of Thursday evening, asks that St. Clair College consider an online option for students who are worried about resuming in-person classes on Jan. 24. The request comes ahead of the college's winter semester, which is expected to go online for the first week only, starting Jan. 17. 

It also comes as cases and hospitalizations of COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex continue to surge.

"It feels like St. Clair is doing the bare minimum," said Nicholas Vennettilli, who created the petition and is in his third year of the school's computer systems technology networking program. 

He said he initially started the petition for his program only, but then it got shared and started receiving hundreds more signatures. 

"The purpose of the petition is that we want the college to accommodate us as students for what we want ... I know lots of students want in-person learning and I know a lot of the programs need in-person learning ... but we want a choice for every student to have either in-person or online and that's what we're trying to fight for," Vennettilli said. 

We believe that coming to the college is safe, we've got a lot of protocols in place.- St. Clair College- St. Clair College

He added that safety measures in the fall semester were "inadequate," as his classes were often in small rooms where about 40 students were sitting "shoulder-[to]-shoulder." 

CBC News spoke with two of Vennettilli's peers who also raised concerns about not being able to properly physically distance in their program's classrooms. 

But John Fairley, the college's vice president of communications and community relations, told CBC News that the school has put safety measures in place to protect students, including masking and distancing.

At this time, Fairley said the college has no plans to make any schedule changes and that administration is "confident" students will be returning in person on Jan. 24.

He added that he has seen the online petition that is circulating. 

"I think that we have been able to meet the students where they're at, and maybe not all of them ... [but] this has not come to us that there's this amount of people that are saying 'look we don't want to come back.' We've got more people saying they're glad to be back," he said. 

"We believe that coming to the college is safe; we've got a lot of protocols in place." 

He said the school hasn't had any major outbreaks since it began in-person learning in the fall and said he's "surprised" that students who attended then now suddenly don't want to be in class. 

Student Steve Plancher says they haven't been given options and as COVID-19 continues to spread, he says students should have a choice. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Fairley also added that learning materials are available online, so students could use those if they didn't want to attend in-person. 

But, Vennettilli said while the slide deck of the lecture may be available online, teachers in his program don't post additional notes or a recording of them going through the slides. 

'We haven't got many options'

Steve Plancher is in the same program as Vennettilli and he said the college needs to do more to make students feel safe, such as smaller class sizes or rotating the students who attend in-person learning so that there can be more physical distance. 

"Since the whole pandemic started, we haven't got many options, we've just been following what the admissions [office] tells us, the health unit tells us ... so we just been following all the officials, what they tell us," Plancher said. 

First-year nursing student Jenna Burk told CBC News that she agrees students should have the option.

Nursing student Jenna Burk agrees that students should have an option, but wants to see her program continue in-person. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Since she's in a program that requires hands-on learning, Burk said she would prefer to stay in-person at this time, but said she understands how it may not be necessary for everyone. 

She said she worries that if the college goes online, it will force all programs to do so, which could jeopardize her education. 

"If we go online, chances are it's not going to be, 'oh some students can do it in person, others can't,' it'll be we're online, period," she said. 

Burk also said she has found that her classes were following all safety measures and she feels comfortable going to class. 

Fairley said the school will re-evaluate their plans if there's new guidance from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities and Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. 


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