by JOSEPHINE JOHNSON & JESS KIRBY
On June 10, UMW President Troy Paino announced via a live question and answer session that students will return to campus in the fall. Following this return new safety precautions and a new schedule will be put in place.
“Until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, life on campus will not return to normal,” said Paino in an email to the UMW community on June 18.
With the new schedule, classes will still begin on Aug. 24. There will be classes held on Labor Day, no fall break and instruction will switch to online learning after Thanksgiving Day, including a virtual finals week.
UMW will utilize diagnostic testing of both symptomatic cases and those who have had close contact with others who are symptomatic. According to an email from Assistant Dean of Residence Life and Housing Dave Fleming, Marshall Hall, South Hall and Custis Hall will be used for “dedicated quarantine and isolation space” to quarantine those possibly exposed for fourteen days, according to the email. Impacted students have been notified and updated housing assignments are in the works.
“Despite the increased need for housing space to allow for social distancing, UMW has made the decision to not turn away any student who applied to live on campus for the 2020-2021 academic year,” said Fleming.
At the start of the semester, move-ins will be staggered and students will be limited on the number of guests they can bring. Paino also suggested in the email that students should opt to bring fewer belongings than normal.
When asked about the option of remote learning, Paino said, “Students and faculty who are at risk can reach out through appropriate channels ([Office of Disability Resources] and Human Resources) for accommodations. We are installing webcams in classrooms to make it easier for students to access in-class discussion remotely.”
However, representatives from ODR say that not all students who want to may be able to participate in fully remote learning.
“ODR cannot guarantee that any student who wishes to only attend classes online will be able to do so,” said Jessica Machado of the Office of Disability Resources. “If a student has documentation to support disability-related needs (such as a student with a chronic healthy disability who falls into the at-risk group for COVID-19 and requires consideration to in-person participation) we are able to provide disability advising and accommodations that might be appropriate.”
Larger classes will take place online throughout the entire semester, and some smaller classes will be moved to larger areas that are not typically used as classrooms in order to allow students to practice social distancing. It is unclear how large a class must be to be moved online, but Paino estimated in an interview that one-third of all classes will be online.
According to an article in The Free-Lance Star, Paino said that “class sizes are expected to be limited to 30 to 50 percent of normal capacity.”
Students are expected to maintain proper social distancing from classrooms to residence halls. Each student will be given an eight foot wide, social distanced space in classrooms and meeting spaces. Everyone on campus will be required to wear a mask “when in public spaces with others, including when at least six feet of physical distance cannot be maintained and in shared office spaces, hallways, and stairwells,” said Paino.
Some of this information was first announced through email to parents on June 8, and later through the email to students on June 18.
Paino explained the lapse of time between the messages as “a miscommunication among [his] team to release information to parents via email on June 8 before [he] could announce it on June 10 and more fully articulate the plan that was released on [June 18].”
According to Paino, campus safety precautions include “a combination of testing, self-reporting symptom tracking, contact tracing, and quarantine and isolation spaces on campus.” Each student, faculty and staff member will be required to use a “daily symptom self-reporting tool” to monitor symptoms and prevent contagion.
The University will be installing more than 1,000 no-touch hand sanitizing stations as well as plexiglass barriers “in high-use windows and reception desks (e.g. Lee Hall, UC, HCC, and Simpson Library),” said Paino. There will be 20-minute increments between classes to allow for proper self-cleaning of areas and materials used, but it is unclear what the new schedule will be.
UMW Dining will be eliminating buffets in favor of “grab-and-go” meal options. Dining spaces will be at decreased capacity with more outdoor dining areas.
Incoming sophomore Alex Ohene-Okae says he is opting to stay home this fall.
“The population returning to campus will make the cases skyrocket and both me and my parents are at risk, so I can’t risk that,” said Ohene-Okae. “If UMW allows us to take classes remotely for the whole semester then I will. It’s not worth my time or money to go to school for half the semester so I’ll probably be taking a gap semester.”
It is unclear whether an alternate grading scale will be available for classes that have moved online.
“We continue to work on a number of important details and will have more information to share as we finalize the plans that are due to the state no later than July 6,” said Paino.