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RED OAK – Texas State Technical College is set to finish its spring semester in the next few weeks. However, before students, faculty and staff members were allowed to return to campus, new measures and an operating model were put in place to protect individuals from the COVID-19 virus.

Marcus Balch, provost of TSTC’s North Texas Campus in Red Oak, said the safety of students, the facility, the staff and the community is paramount and, for the foreseeable future, the campus will be a blend of online learning and campus learning.

“We have restricted access to the campus,” he said in a recent interview with the Sun. “All of the CDC guidelines are in place. Our programs like computer networking and cybersecurity, and computer-aided drafting, those programs have been transferred to 100-percent online. Those instructors and students have not returned to campus and we don’t expect them to in the near future. (The classes will remain online) probably at least through the summer and it could be the fall as well.”

The more hands-on classes, however, have seen their lab components return to campus.

“A few weeks ago, the governor gave us the opportunity to get those folks back into the lab,” he said. “Obviously, if you’re a welder, an HVAC mechanic or an electrician it is tough to do that type of learning 100-percent online.”

Still, with the more hands-on classes, the lectures have remained online, with additional Google and Zoom opportunities where students can engage with instructors.

Campus access is limited to the students involved with the labs along with the staff members required to operate the campus facilities to support those programs.

“The social distancing and the face-covering are required at all times on campus,” Balch said. “There is a lot of hand washing and hand sanitizer, certain entrance-only and exit-only doors, directional signage and a lot of new signage on campus directing people to remain safe.

“We have done well and I think that folks are following the guidelines and directions,” he said. “The return to campus has seemed to have gone well and pretty smooth so far. It’s been pretty uneventful and is exactly what we wanted.”

New protocols are in place as to what TSTC would do if someone were to come in contact with an individual who has contracted the novel coronavirus. The college is following the CDC’s guidelines and would do contact tracing, he said, noting that the college would also inform health officials.

“We know that COVID is still here and that safety is the primary concern,” Balch said. “Our expectation is that we will finish the spring semester and operate the same throughout the summer semester. We have already condensed that down some as well.

“Then we will kind of reevaluate that as we get a little closer to the fall,” he said. “But, for the foreseeable future, we will operate under these strict guidelines.”

When the time comes to loosen the guidelines, it will be up to TSTC’s chancellor, Michael Reeser, and the leadership team to decide how the 10 college campuses across the state will proceed, he said.

“Everyone, students, faculty, and staff are complying with the requirements for re-entry,” Balch said. “We believe strongly that we are able to move forward in the new normal. We will continue to offer technical education skills especially when a lot of people find themselves unemployed and need to gain additional skills or up their skills to be able to enter the marketplace because there is still a huge demand for technical skills.

“Texas State Technical College will be a big part of rebuilding the economy in Texas,” he said. “We feel 100-percent strongly that we can do it in a safe manner.”

He noted that TSTC also was successful in securing some funding from the CARES Act and is distributing that to students on a case by case basis to aid in their continued education.

For more information about TSTC’s North Texas Campus in Red Oak go to www.tstc.edu/campuses/northtexas. Staff at the college can be reached at 972-617-4040 to answer questions or additional information.

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