Los Angeles program forced to begin online amid coronavirus spike


Iwan Baan

The Emerson Los Angeles campus.

Los Angeles County officials have not given the college’s LA campus clearance to reopen in late August as originally scheduled, forcing administrators to shift at least the beginning of the semester online, according to a college official. 

The program, which many students attend for its in-person class and internship experiences, will continue to push to reopen for students, Associate Dean of Students and Chief Operations Officer at the LA campus Timothy Chang told The Beacon. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom said last week that K-12 schools will only receive clearance to reopen in the fall when the county meets several criteria, including declining infection and hospitalization rates—two turnarounds that do not appear to be on the horizon in LA county.

The delay in reopening comes amid soaring virus case numbers nationwide, including in California, which passed New York in the highest total number of COVID-19 cases in any state last week. LA County continues to be the epicenter of the state’s outbreak, seeing an average of 2,735 cases per day in the past week, according to data collected by the LA Times. Massachusetts saw just 301 each day, per the state’s website.

Cases have continued to surge in the county as a whole following its reopening, with daily averages near 3,000 throughout the month of July. Cases topped 3,000 only once in June, on June 30.  

Many California schools have already made the shift to remote instruction for the fall semester, including the entirety of the state’s University of California and Cal State systems, which combined includes 33 campuses. 

There is a point at which the college may be forced to move the program entirely online but that point is not yet clearly defined, Chang said. He said that if county officials gave clearance for the program to reopen in late October, students may not want to only move to campus for a month. 

County officials were supposed to release guidelines for reopening schools two weeks ago but have not done so yet, Chang said. 

The college has already adapted the LA campus to account for social distancing regulations but is still waiting to hear from county officials on exact protocols that will need to be in place. Chang said classrooms have been outfitted with partitions, air filters, fans, and hand sanitizer to keep students safe. 

ELA houses first and second-semester seniors on the college’s Hollywood campus and offers courses and internships in students’ fields of study. Chang said the students he has talked to feel they wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of the program if it were to be held online. 

Joseph Johnson, a rising senior planning to attend the program in the fall, said he isn’t concerned about his experience being dramatically altered if the program shifts online but feels he will lose opportunities he would’ve had if it continued in person.

“I really do want to go out to LA, as much as I can, and try to do as much as I could in person,” he said in a phone interview from Atlanta, Georgia. “However, a lot of the internships are going to be remote… I really wanted that office experience, getting to talk to these people face to face. I feel like a bunch of the bonding experience, and a bunch of the networking that you’re able to do, is from these in-person experiences.”

Johnson said he is slightly concerned about moving to LA County due to the high case numbers.

“I do feel hesitant wanting to go out there,” he said. “I would feel more open to it because California has been trying to take the coronavirus pretty seriously.”