Stephen F. Austin State University is moving toward a phased reopening and preparing to bring students back to its campus this fall, though finalized plans won’t be released for another month.
The university will give more specifics about how fall classes will work “sometime around the end of June,” university president Dr. Scott Gordon said.
“We’re looking at an approach where we’ll have the ability for students to take classes face-to-face in a socially distant manner as well as, if they don’t feel comfortable in that environment, to take those classes in a fully remote style,” Gordon told the Chamber of Commerce this week.
A portion of the the multi-trillion dollar CARES Act passed by Congress was set aside for expanding technological infrastructure after everything from universities to doctor’s offices were thrust into the online world because of the coronavirus pandemic. SFA will use their portion of the money to fit dozens of classrooms with distance learning technology.
“We are over the course of the summer going to be equipping over 80 classrooms with technology so we can deliver education both face to face and remotely in a simultaneous manner,” Gordon said.
SFA initially extended its spring break but moved totally to distance learning after Gov. Greg Abbott closed all schools around the state through the end of the academic year. University officials have said summer classes will be taught solely through distance learning.
The university might also change some of its course schedule in the fall.
“We’re also looking at some courses that are eight-week courses vs. the typical 16 week courses. What we anticipate is if, like some of the experts are saying, there is a resurgence in COVID-19 in late fall, our students will still be able to get the education that they came here for,” Gordon said.
Over the past few weeks, Gordon has given a glimpse at questions SFA is wrestling with for when students return to campus around three months from now. Will students and visitors be required to wear face coverings? Should the university combine admissions, financial aid and other offices that deal directly with students into a one-stop shop? How can the university ensure the public remains appropriately distant at sports games and other events?
To answer these questions, Gordon said previously, officials have been working on the Lumberjack Flex Model. He’s given few details about the plan, and more is likely to be included in his late June announcement.
Few major universities have made their plans public yet. On Monday Notre Dame announced its plan — a regimen of testing, contact tracing and requirements for masks and social distancing.
Some institutions have publicly discussed having fever checkpoints at the entrance to academic buildings and one-way paths around campus. The University of Kentucky’s proposal also includes a specialized quarantine dormitory for any students exposed to the coronavirus.
Several leaders of colleges and universities around the country have asked for immunity from lawsuits related to the virus as they consider reopening for in-person instruction.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has been pushing for such protections, which he says will give confidence to businesses, schools and churches at they reopen while protecting them from “frivolous lawsuits.”
“The thing that I am focusing on in addition to other responsibilities is liability protection for businesses that in good faith follow the guidance from public health and government officials,” Cornyn told reporters last week.
“Bad actors,” who violate public health guidelines, would not be covered by the liability protections.
“There is no effort to protect bad actors who willingly put their patients, their employees or customers in danger,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor Monday.