The University of Wyoming has released a draft plan to restart on-campus educational experiences this fall, including measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and a mixture of in-person and online courses.
The university is accepting public comment on the plan, which could be adjusted before it is presented to the UW Board of Trustees during its regular teleconference meeting June 10.
“It has become clear that our students and our state are depending upon the university to return to some semblance of normalcy this fall, and this plan charts a course to do so as safely as is reasonably possible,” Acting President Neil Theobald says. “There are risks associated with bringing students back to campus, but the risks of not doing so are greater. We intend to do what we can to minimize the risks for our students, faculty, staff and state.”
Under the plan, UW would maintain a 15-week semester, with classes beginning Aug. 24 and ending Dec. 4. Students would not return to campus after Thanksgiving; all courses would move to fully online instruction beginning Nov. 23, and final exams would take place through distance technologies. The two-day midsemester break and three days before Thanksgiving would be converted to instructional days.
Additionally, the spring 2021 semester would start Jan. 25, one week later than had been planned, and spring break would be eliminated.
“The idea with these schedule changes is to reduce the risk inherent with students leaving campus during the semester, then returning from other locations where the coronavirus may be prevalent,” Theobald says.
The plan sets the stage for faculty members and academic departments to develop the best mix of in-person and online instruction, with classrooms scheduled to provide for social distancing. Every student would be offered a combination of online and face-to-face learning to allow for greatest flexibility to provide students the in-person experience.
The plan establishes a goal of requiring students and employees to be tested for COVID-19, and provide results, within 14 days before they return to Albany County (or Natrona County for UW-Casper). Those testing positive would have to self-isolate for 14 days and be retested before returning to campus or work. Online COVID-19 training also would be developed for students and employees to take before the semester begins.
During the semester, all employees and students would be required to conduct daily temperature and symptom checks, self-reporting through a phone app that will be made available by the university.
While in communal spaces on campus, students and employees would be required to wear face coverings, provided by the university; comply with social distancing guidelines; and limit gatherings. Visitors would be encouraged to do the same.
Students and employees developing symptoms that might indicate COVID-19 infection would be required to immediately report to health care providers, self-isolate and submit to a coronavirus test.
“Ultimately, personal responsibility is the key for us to have a successful semester from a public health standpoint,” Theobald says. “We will be counting on everyone to contribute to the well-being of our community.”
The plan also provides for extensive physical modifications to ensure adequate social distancing and reduce density. Those may include suspending the use of small classrooms and meeting rooms; spaced seating on rooms that are used; designating entrance and exit areas in highly trafficked spaces such as the Classroom Building and the Wyoming Union; turning off communal water fountains; and installation of protective equipment.
Enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of high-touch surfaces also are part of the plan.
Work is underway to convert residence hall rooms to single rooms, and to modify the residential dining plan to facilitate social distancing.
To see the complete draft plan, go to www.uwyo.edu/trustees/_files/docs/2020-board-meeting-materials/2020_june_supplemental/campusreopeningplan-06.02.20_draft.pdf. Input is being accepted through Friday, June 5, at this online portal.
The plan is based on the work of over 100 faculty members, staff, students and administrators in five working groups that have focused on topics including scheduling and instructional delivery; research; social structure; university operations; personnel policies; and community/state interaction.
The plan is designed to be adaptable to allow for up-to-date information and changing conditions. Implementation would require the university to secure federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act through the state of Wyoming.
“This will be a heavy lift for everyone, and we will continue to work on many details, but we are on track to be ready for a successful fall semester,” Theobald says. “There’s no way to guarantee the health and safety of everyone, but this plan puts us on a path to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the UW community while delivering a quality educational experience.”