College Statements on Coronavirus


Reopening Message from President Barwick

 

Dear A-B Tech Community,

When asked about A-B Tech’s plans for Fall, I have told many people that “we’re planning for the best, but preparing for the worst.” The best being a return to normal operations, the worst being a new spike in COVID-19 disrupting our capacity to serve our students. While our employees are doing a wonderful job providing online instruction and remote services, A-B Tech has always prided itself on being a premier RISE, welcoming campus, in all of our centers on all of our campuses. As of this writing – depending upon successful flattening of the COVID-19 infection curve – we are planning for a return to face-to-face operations when the Fall Semester opens on August 24.

The current Fall schedule includes 36% of curriculum sections traditional, 40% either hybrid or blended with as much as half the instruction face-to-face, and 24% totally online. Additionally, our Continuing Education division is gearing up with courses that will begin in the coming weeks that will include courses in skilled trades, health occupations, business and hospitality, and manufacturing. During the Summer Semester, we will continue to provide primarily online instruction, but there are some classes and services that will require in-person delivery.

As we all begin to return to our campus and locations, I want to assure you that the health, safety, and well-being of our students and employees is paramount in all of our planning and that we have multiple processes in place to develop plans and guidelines. It is important to note that all of our recommendations and plans are based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for workplaces, schools and the general public; guidance from the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and specific guidance for NC Community Colleges, as well as state and local directives and executive orders.

Even before we closed our doors and began teleworking in March, we established a Coronavirus Task Force that includes me, all members of the Executive Leadership Team (ELT), Dr. Gene Loflin to represent Transitional Studies, Madison and South, Dean Clint Gorman, who is the College’s official Emergency Management representative, Cris Harshman from IT and project planning, as well as Kara Walker and Scott Early representing the A-B Tech Police Department. This group met daily for more than a month and transitioned to three mornings a week in May. We immediately created the Coronavirus Response Web page as a repository for current information and resources; we have worked to address urgent issues; and we are developing policies, procedures, guidelines, training and plans to address the impact of Coronavirus on our college community. None of this work has been intentionally closed to our employees. The fact is, we have been in a constantly changing environment, and only now do we feel ready to take the first proactive steps toward a gradual reopening.

In addition, a reopening task force led, by Dean Vernon Daugherty from Curriculum Instruction and Maria Spadaro from Continuing Education, developed procedures, signage, and a reopening video for employees who returned on May 18 to provide in-person instruction for a limited number of spring students. That group recently became part of the larger Pandemic Re-entry and Resiliency Team, a college-wide task force led by Clint Gorman that is addressing guidelines for returning to work, a plan to educate employees and students, training, signage, communications, and more. Be on the lookout for training you can take remotely this summer!

Among return-to-work recommendations approved by the ELT are the following:

  • Employees who return to work will have supervisor approval (continue to work remotely as much as possible; supervisors will request through the normal chain of command to ELT for approval of when to return and for what purpose; workspace will be properly configured for safety according to supervisor checklist). Our intent, here, is to bring employees back to campus as – and only as – we can be reasonably sure of their safety.
  • Prior to returning to work, employees will view the return-to-work safety video and sign a return-to-work agreement (in-depth information and guidance will be provided by HR). This is NOT your typical “Agree to Terms and Conditions” statement on all Internet orders. This is to get us all on the same page as we ease out of this “Stay Home” order.
  • Use of face coverings will be expected for anyone working within six feet of another person (the College has ordered face coverings for employees, but please bring your own if returning before June 15; students also will be encouraged to bring their own face coverings).
  • The College will provide face shields and/or barriers as available and deemed necessary (many Plexiglas barriers have already been installed).
  • Employees and students who require variances to this guidance will be referred to as HR and Student Services, respectively, using normal accommodation processes.
  • HR also is developing procedures for employees who have had COVID-19 or who become symptomatic while at work.

Required safety practices for all of us will include:

  • The Building Captains, already in place in EVERY building and all locations, will be trained to help train and assure compliance with safety protocols.
  • Signage for all building entrances and interiors will include entry restrictions and COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Hand-washing upon entry to buildings, and frequently thereafter (soap and water are considered primary hand-washing practice).
  • Use of hand sanitizer (sanitizer stations will be filled, but sanitizer is not considered a replacement for soap and water).
  • Daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms by instructors with checklist NOTE: we will not be taking temperatures. We have to rely on students, and ourselves, to self-report.
  • Social distancing to the extent possible in accordance with local and state guidelines.
  • Participation in infection control, cleaning, and disinfection training sessions (again, these will be available remotely over the summer).

In addition to CARES ACT funding for direct student assistance, A-B Tech has received CARES ACT funding to be used exclusively to help the College address costs associated with COVID-19. Dr. Dirk Wilmoth’s staff has already undertaken multiple efforts to procure the equipment and materials identified above and to implement the protocols we all believe will protect ourselves and our students, while still allowing us to resume reopening this college.

We also have conducted surveys with our employees and students to obtain your thoughts about current operations and the prospects of returning to work and classrooms. I want to thank you for your thoughtful responses and assure you that your input is a vital part of our planning processes. I hope that you will continue to reach out to your supervisors or to me if you have further concerns. We came into this together; we rose above it together, and we will meet the future together. Additional details about the training, procedures, and the fall semester will be forthcoming in the days and weeks ahead.

As I said in a recent video: between the challenges ahead and A-B Tech, I will always bet on A-B Tech!

Thank you for keeping us all on mission.

Joe Barwick

President’s Message to Employees

Dear A-B Tech Family,

Some of you may remember a time when you walked out of a bar or restaurant and all you carried out was the smell of someone else’s cigarette smoke. Obviously, what you might carry out today has much more severe consequences. So life has changed for all of us, and with this pandemic change, comes commensurate anxiety and uncertainty – for us as well as for our students and their families. First let me say, as a person relatively new to A-B Tech, I am amazed at how all of you have pulled together behind the College’s mission to keep education moving forward. Clearly, the mandate to convert all possible instruction to virtual and on-line would be onerous given a year. Given less than two weeks makes it monumental. But the ongoing discussions about other services to students show what this College is truly made of, and I can tell you that you are in a league by yourselves. Likewise, all the services that do not directly impact students but are necessary to prevent disruptions in things like payroll, technology infrastructure, maintenance and so much more, these people are parsing out those things that can be done remotely and those that can’t. I just want you to know that I, and the Executive Leadership Team, know what you are doing and the high level of commitment you have made to it.

So I want you also to know that second only to our mission to serve students, our commitment to all of you is firm. We have reviewed all of our employee policies that are relevant to this crisis, including leave policies, part-time pay policies, teleworking policies, and others, making changes where we need to and even preparing a new Emergency Leave policy to take to the Board of Trustees next week. Our commitment is that, regardless of your payroll status, you will not lose pay during this crisis as long as it is in our power to prevent it. If you have particular issues that worry you, please contact HR and let them know.

And finally, I have always found community college work, with its life-changing mission, to be joyful work, regardless of my position in it. That is why I stayed in it for 40 Years! And if the joy is elusive at this time, at least look for it in “a job well done!”

Best,

Joe Barwick
Interim President

Monday, March 30, 2020

Accessing Resources for Online Learning
From Dr. Terry Brasier, Vice President of Student Services

 

Dear Students,

As we all move forward together during this pandemic, A-B Tech has transitioned most of our classes and colleges services online in order to comply with local and state emergency "stay at home" declarations. We know that not all students have access to computers, devices, or Internet services and have identified several resources to provide assistance. We hope the following information will help you overcome any challenges that you may have.

  • Effective today, a Distance Education Lab is available in the A-B Tech/Mission Health Conference Center for a limited number of students who may not have computers or Internet service. We have set up 18 stations that comply with social distancing and hygiene practices recommended by public health officials. The Distance Education Lab is open in the Conference Center between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

 

 

  • Several companies also are offering FREE broadband access to college students for the next 60 days in order to aid the sudden transition to online learning. However, we caution that you need to discontinue the service after 60 days to avoid being billed. Here are the companies in our area that are offering free service:
    • Charter/Spectrum
      • Charter is offering free broadband for households with K-12 and college students.
      • As of March 16, Charter commits to the following for 60 days:
      • Charter will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription and at any service level up to 100 Mbps. To enroll call 1-844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived for new student households.
      • Charter will open its Wi-Fi hotspots for public use.
      • Spectrum does not have data caps or hidden fees.
    • Comcast
      • As of March 16, low-income families who live in a Comcast service area can sign up as new customers to receive 60 days of free Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified households for $9.95 per month. Comcast is also increasing the speeds for this service.
      • To qualify for Comcast’s Internet Essentials service, customers must be eligible for public assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program, Housing Assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, or SSI.
      • Applicants can visit Internet Essentials from Comcast to enroll in the program
      • Or call 855-846-8376 for English or (855) 765-6995 for Spanish

 

We also encourage you to visit our Coronavirus Response web page for critical updates and its Helpful Resources page for college and community resources that may help you at this time. As always, we encourage you to contact us directly if you need assistance:

  • For help with Moodle, the Distance Education Lab, and other IT issues, contact the IT HelpDesk at via email at HelpDesk@abtech.edu, chat on the website, or by calling (828) 398-7550.
  • For emergency needs, please email Dr. Terry Brasier, Vice President of Student Services, at terrygbrasier@abtech.edu.

 

Thank you,

Dr. Terry Brasier
Vice President of Student Services

Friday, March 27, 2020

President’s Message to Students

 

Dear A-B Tech Students,

I’m glad you’re still with us and as ready as we are to get your education back on track and moving forward! Your faculty and Student Support staff have been working non-stop for these two weeks to eliminate as many barriers as possible in your education journey, and I am pleased to say that you will be able to complete the vast majority of your classes this semester.

Most of your classes have been transitioned to online and virtual instruction. For classes that must meet in person, we are investigating a number of options and will keep you informed. Please check Moodle for updates and information about your individual classes.

We also strongly encourage you to check your student email frequently for important messages from Vice President for Instruction Dr. Beth Stewart, Vice President for Student Services Dr. Terry Brasier, Financial Aid, Student Support Services, and other college departments that will help keep you informed as we all adjust to communicating online. I also encourage you to sign up for A-B Tech student text alerts, which will be the fastest and most direct mode for receiving our critical updates. To register, go to WebAdvisor, choose to Update My Contact Information, check the box for text alerts, and enter your phone number and carrier. It takes less than a minute.

Finally, we have developed a Coronavirus Response web page, which provides a wide range of information about the college and our status during the pandemic, as well as helpful college and community resources. This page contains all college statements related to the impact of Coronavirus, updates about our classes and services, and contact information for any department or service you may need to reach. If you don’t find what you need, email us at info@abtech.edu.

Our students are the heart and soul of A-B Tech and the reason we’re all here. Your health and safety, educational success, and future are our top priorities. You will hear from us often as we transition to online and virtual classes, but we also want you to reach out to us if there is anything you need. If we are unable to assist you, we will connect you with someone who can. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that you complete your education and achieve your dreams.

We hope to see you back on campus again soon, but Buncombe County’s StayHome, StaySafe emergency order mandates that we may only deliver classes and services online at this time. We all appreciate your faith, patience, and flexibility over the next few months. We will get through these unprecedented times together.

 

Sincerely,

Dr. Joseph Barwick
A-B Tech President

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Employee Communication about Emergency Declaration

 

Dear Employees:

No doubt you have by now heard news of the Stay Safe, Stay Home directive issued yesterday by Buncombe County, effective from 8 p.m. today through April 9. The good news is that A-B Tech and other educational institutions were declared “essential businesses”. That designation allows us to conduct all activities that are essential to the delivery of online instruction and the continuity of our business, which covers most of our operations. Put another way, A-B Tech remains open for business and is not closed. We will resume curriculum classes online Monday and suspend classes that cannot be offered online until we can make other arrangements or reschedule them safely. Our other services, such as those provided by Student Services, HR, the Business Office, and the Small Business Center, have already been transitioned online.

The steps we have taken to provide most instruction and services online and to enable most employees to telework are sufficient under this declaration. ELT members will inform their respective employees if there are essential services that require you to be on campus. Otherwise, you should continue to telework from home as directed.

What the declaration prevents is an in-person interaction with students or the public at our locations or any violations of social distancing guidelines. It appears that the only thing we will not be able to continue is a computer lab we had planned to operate for students. Instead, we will provide students with a list of hot spot locations where they can access our Internet from their vehicles.

Meanwhile, I want to thank each of you for all you have done to calmly and professionally help A-B Tech navigate these uncharted waters. I want to assure you that your efforts are appreciated and that your health and safety is our top priority. We have been in close communication with Buncombe and Madison county officials to provide input and gain clarity on the emergency declarations concerning the pandemic and how we should proceed. Here is a portion of the guidance shared by Buncombe County that may help clarify what you can and cannot do in the next few weeks:

 

Activities Considered Essential

In general, any activities that fall under these categories are permitted:

  • For health and safety
  • To get necessary supplies and services
  • For outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, running, cycling, using greenways
  • For work for essential businesses and operations
  • To take care of others (including friends, family members, pets and disadvantaged populations)

Things you CAN do:

  • Go to grocery and convenience stores
  • Go pharmacies for medications and healthcare necessities
  • Visit a healthcare facility for medical services that cannot be provided virtually (call first)
  • Go to a restaurant for take-out, delivery or drive-thru service
  • Care for or support a friend, family member or pet
  • Take a walk, ride your bike, jog (as long as social distancing measures are maintained)
  • Walk your pets and take them to the vet
  • Help others to get necessary supplies and services, including assisting disadvantaged populations
  • Receive deliveries from any business that delivers

Things you CANNOT do:

  • Go out at all if you are sick
  • Go to work, unless you are providing essential services as defined by this order
  • Visit friends and family if there is no specific, urgent need
  • Be closer than 6 feet from others if out in public
  • Visit loved ones in the hospital nursing home, skilled nursing facilities or other residential care facilities, except as provided by the specific facility
  • Travel, except for essential travel and activities
  • Engage in door-to-door solicitation

Both Buncombe and Madison counties also have been clear that current emergency declarations are subject to change, pending further developments with the pandemic. We will keep you informed and adjust our operations accordingly.

 

Thank you again for your patience, resilience, and cooperation.

 

President Joseph Barwick

Friday, March 20, 2020

Spring Semester Update:

A-B Tech continues to monitor the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic and put the health and safety of our students and employees first and foremost. We encourage all students, employees, partners, and the public to refer to the Coronavirus Response alerts and web page for the most up to date information: Coronavirus Response.

When our Curriculum students return from Spring Break on Monday, March 30, all classes will be conducted online or virtually. Please refer to Moodle for information about your individual classes and remember to check your student email regularly for college-wide messages.

Most of our in-person Continuing Education, Workforce, and Transitional Studies/Adult Education classes have been suspended until we have clarity about when classes may be rescheduled. However, our Small Business Center and several other classes are continuing online and virtually. We urge you to check our website for updates and contact information for individual classes or programs.

If you need A-B Tech services or information about the college, please call (828) 398-7900, email info@abtech.edu, or refer to the Student Services and College Operations sections of the Coronavirus Response page for the most up-to-date information. Most services are now being conducted online or by telephone. The Bookstore and Business Office remain open at this time, but please check the website or call to confirm their status before coming to campus due to the rapidly changing environment.

Our Coronavirus Response web page also includes helpful information for employees, students, and the community under Community Resources and Employee Resources.

In accordance with the most recent guidance and orders from federal, state, and local public health officials to practice social distancing and cancel gatherings of more than 10 people for the next eight weeks, A-B Tech has canceled all public events, including the Commencement Ceremony scheduled for May 9. We will revisit whether this important celebration can be rescheduled once we have more clarity about the evolving pandemic, but all of our graduates will receive their diplomas and certificates.

We have witnessed the power, spirit, and commitment of our A-B Tech family in recent weeks. We will get through this unsettling time by continuing to focus on our mission to serve students and our community.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Commencement Ceremony Canceled

Our Commencement ceremony scheduled for May 9 has been canceled due to the prohibition on large public gatherings of more than 50 people. We are looking at alternatives for rescheduling this important celebration of student success and will provide updates as more information becomes available.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Barber Academy and Health Occupation Programs Status

The A-B Tech Barber Academy and Health Occupation programs (CNA, Ophthalmology, and Clinical Massage) will suspend classes and not meet until March 30. We will provide further guidance at that time. If you have questions, please contact your instructor, or Maria Spadaro, Associate Director, Workforce Continuing Education (828) 398-7925, or email marialspadaro@abtech.edu

In response to the concerns of the potential spread of the COVID-19, Health Occupations courses will be suspended for 2 weeks starting today. This includes ongoing courses and those scheduled to begin in the next 2 weeks. Any changes will be posted on the website. For additional questions feel free to call (828) 398-7960, or email teresamrobinson@abtech.edu.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Continuing Education, Workforce and Small Business Center Status

As the college observes social distancing practices the Continuing Education division and the various programs and locations will strategically plan to continue, postpone, and cancel programs as warranted by best practices and the Governor’s directives. Please see the details below for the specifics in the various areas of operation.

The Small Business Center at Enka – The Center will remain open for clients and incubation program participants. Any appointments with volunteer counselors are canceled to be rescheduled in mid-April. Workshops with smaller attendance will continue and larger program gatherings will be rescheduled. For specific program information contact: Jill Sparks at (828) 398-7949.

Community Enrichment Programs – Community enrichment programs are offered in different environments and many locations across our campuses. Contact Brinda Caldwell, Director of Community Enrichment at (828) 398-7134, or email brindawcaldwell@abtech.edu for a detailed list of cancellations and postponements.

Workforce Programs – Workforce Programs include a broad spectrum of courses, training, and that includes many partnerships and offsite locations. Included in this are the Health Occupations, Business & Hospitality, Computer and Online Training, HRD/Job Preparedness, Occupational and Skilled trades, the Barber Academy. For questions on programs outside of HO, please contact Maria Spadaro, Associate Director, Workforce Continuing Education (828) 398-7925, or email marialspadaro@abtech.edu.

At this time classes will continue with the exception of our Health Occupation programs. Due to the nature of all our HO programs, nurse aid, massage, ophthalmic, starting Monday, March 16th, all classes currently operating at all of our campuses be suspended for a minimum of two weeks. Due to the nature of physical contact in these program areas, this is the most prudent and safe course of action for our students and instructors. In addition, we do not recommend beginning new classes until we as a college believe it is safe to do so. If you have any questions, contact Teresa Robinson MSN, RNCoordinator Health Occupations (828) 398-7960, or email teresamrobinson@abtech.edu.

The only exception is the Pearson Vue testing scheduled for Saturday and Monday, March 14 & 16.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Transitional Studies Update

Transitional Studies (Adult Education, Foundations, English Language Acquisition, High School Equivalency/GED) classes will be held the week of March 16 as scheduled.

Friday, March 13, 2020

A-B Tech Cancels Large Events in Its Facilities

Per the NC Department of Health and Human Services recommendations, A-B Tech has canceled all events exceeding 100 people for outside groups.

Groups impacted will be contacted directly by A-B Tech.

Internal partners such as Mission Health are exempted from this guideline.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A-B Tech Extends Spring Break by One Week

Coronavirus Response Statement from Interim President Joseph Barwick

Out of an abundance of caution for the health of our students and employees, A-B Tech will extend spring break by one week and move to online and virtual instruction immediately afterward where possible.

Spring break is scheduled from March 16-20 and will be extended through Friday, March 27. Classes will resume online and virtually on Monday, March 30. The college will then reassess instruction delivery on a weekly basis based on guidance from Buncombe County public health officials. At this time, the county medical director has not identified any local cases of Coronavirus or advised any local schools to close.

This is phase one of A-B Tech’s Coronavirus response. The extra time during spring break will give administration and faculty time to complete assessing how to provide online and virtual instruction and identify which classes may need to be postponed until in-person instruction can be provided.

A-B Tech will remain open during this period and will continue to provide ongoing support services to students, prospective students, and employees. This two-week period without our nearly 7,000 curriculum students and more than 400 faculty members also will enhance the safety of our campuses due to the decreased population density.

Phase two of our response plan will address continuing education and adult education classes, as well as identify critical employees and update teleworking procedures.

A-B Tech already has canceled its largest recruiting events of the year, which were scheduled for March 26-27, and discontinued out-of-state travel.

We encourage all students, employees, and the public to refer daily to the college website for critical updates on the evolving coronavirus situation. We appreciate your understanding and patience.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Find Your Future Events Moved Online

We want to reassure you that the college is taking steps to prevent the potential spread of Coronavirus. We are updating the college pandemic plan, which was developed in response to swine flu in 2009 and used again for H1N1 in 2012. At this point, all federal, state, and local public health agencies are advising that we follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance due to the dynamic nature of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The best advice is to stay calm, listen to the experts, and follow the science. The CDC advises that we can protect ourselves and others from coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu, with these common-sense precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water first if hands are visibly dirty.
  • We also have instructed our cleaning company, the Budd Group, to be vigilant about wiping down door handles and surfaces; however, this does not preclude us from cleaning as well. In addition, our departments have been authorized to buy hand sanitizer using your supply budgets through State Contracts: Contract 475A - Concordance Healthcare Solutions, Henry Schein, McKesson Medical-Surgical, & Medical Solutions; Contract 493A – Fisher Scientific, Krackler Scientific, VWR International; and Contract 445B – Grainger. If you have questions, contact Becky Watkins in the Business Office.

We are actively engaged in Level I of our pandemic plan, which includes promoting precautions for stopping the spread of disease, as well as reviewing and updating the pandemic and infectious disease plan, identifying essential personnel, developing contingency plans for continuity of instruction and communications, and reviewing/developing HR policies and procedures.

We also are beginning Level II of the plan, which is activated when human-to-human transmission and outbreaks are confirmed overseas – and obviously also now in the United States and North Carolina. We are in active communication with the Buncombe County Health and Humans Services Department and will be part of any task forces and incident commands they coordinate. This phase also includes activating our communications plan to keep you informed of our current status.

The NC community college presidents also are communicating with each other in order to see how other colleges are reacting to this issue. If I hear of anything that has benefit to A-B Tech, I will pass it on.

We hope the Coronavirus will not impact our community, but we are conscientiously taking every precaution and preparing for any potential threat. We thank you for your efforts and collaboration.