Coronavirus: FAU to require masks, saves 100 dorm rooms for sick students
Florida Atlantic University leaders anticipate a fall term with nearly full dorms but a roster of courses, most of which are delivered online. Their vision includes campuses where students and staff are required to carry masks on them at all times and wear them in close quarters.
Their tentative reopening plans also permit cafeteria-style dining, albeit with fewer indoor seating options and many more outdoor ones. They limit events to 50 people or fewer — except when it comes to athletics.
And they prescribe steps to test, re-house and otherwise accommodate any student who comes down with the scourge that made all these plans necessary in the first place: COVID-19.
The details are mapped out in the 25-page draft of FAU’s reopening plan submitted to the state this month and up for review by the Board of Governors Tuesday.
Each of the state’s 12 public universities was required to file such a plan.
It is the first time since they were directed to send students home mid-spring and hold summer sessions remotely that leadership has had to consider what higher education in the age of the coronavirus would look like — at least for now.
The plans come as one survey indicates nearly half of the parents of would-be freshmen are reconsidering their fall plans, based on a survey of 1,500 Florida residents taken in mid-May by the Florida College Access Network.
While some reported their children were headed to college sooner — over the summer — about a third said they were taking a semester or a year off. Others said their high school grads switched to schools that were closer to home or less expensive.
At FAU, the plans also come when COVID-19 cases are spiking in the county and South Florida continues to hold the title as the state’s virus epicenter.
Last week, FAU’s faculty union told administrators given that hundreds of people a day in Palm Beach County are being diagnosed with the illness, it would like to see all classes conducted remotely this fall, said Deandre Poole, an instructor and president of FAU’s United Faculty of Florida unit.
“Folks here are hesitant to return,” Poole said. “We just basically said we need to make sure we’re making the right decision. We don’t want to do it at the risk of our FAU family, our faculty, students and staff.”
As it stands, Poole said it is the general understanding that about a third of the classes are to be held in person.
Regardless of how classes are conducted, universities across the state are preparing for student to head their way in under two months.
They have crafted plans with the understanding that the contagion is unpredictable and universities may have to pivot accordingly.
After Thanksgiving break
Seven of the state’s universities, including Florida State University and University of Central Florida say they will end face-to-face classes after the Thanksgiving holiday. University of Florida said it is seeking to make a return to campus after that holiday optional for as many students as possible, while FAU and three others did not spell out their post-turkey feast plans.
Most plans begin before students and faculty return, screening them for signs of illness — or in some cases — the faculty at UF, for example — actually having them tested.
At FAU, leaders said they plan an initial screening using a mobile app for students and the online personnel system for staff to determine whether someone is experiencing symptoms or has been exposed to someone who has been confirmed to have the illness. Based on the answers, these screening would then direct individuals to come to school or check in for further assessment.
On campus, FAU, with an enrollment of more than 30,000, has created a virus testing program through Student Health Services.
The institution that last year saw more than 4,300 students living on campus, plans to set aside 112 dorm rooms on its Boca Raton campus and 12 on its satellite Jupiter campus for students who test positive and must be isolated.
Students who are quarantined in these rooms will continue to get food service through delivery, be monitored for health and given access to counseling. They can continue their coursework remotely, according to the plan.
The university is working with the state’s Department of Health to create an internal contract tracing program for both students and staff.
If more residential space is needed, FAU has put hotels under contract to handle an overflow of students who are well.
The details about what will play out in the classroom is more fuzzy.
FAU says it wants to deliver in various modes and will prioritize courses, including labs, that require in-person experiences. Any course that typically draws more than 50 students will remain fully remote or will be held in a lecture hall with no more than 50 students while others attend virtually.
When a class is held in person, the number of people in the room has been cut to one-fifth or one-quarter of the room’s capacity, depending on the type of seating in the room.
The United Faculty of Florida, the statewide union for more than 22,000 university and college staff, say the plans appear to address their top concern, prioritizing distancing and masks on campus, while also giving some leeway when it comes to staff who wish to work remotely.
“We have an overall concern for the vulnerable population. Faculty tends to be a little older. If a person is concerned about their health or has someone at home who is not healthy, they should be allowed to choose to work online,” said UFF spokesman Marshall Ogletree. “Some plans address that, but not all.”
FAU’s membership said it’s still pushing to ensure equity when tenured, non-tenured and student teachers are assigned those in-person classes, Poole said.
And they await better direction on what to do, for example, should a student refuse to wear a mask.
’Level of concern still in the air’
Poole said the university is revising its student conduct code. Until then, a teacher can suggest someone leave the class or could opt to dismiss class if a student balks.
“That’s a problem,” Poole said. “That’s the level of concern that is still in the air. It’s still there.”
For students, like Abigail Maldonado, who registered in March and are due back in class Aug. 17, the devil will be in the details.
Maldonado, a 20-year-old junior studying neuroscience, has a schedule that includes room assignments — but they were posted long before COVID became a certain fall game-changer.
In her line of study, remote courses don’t always work.
“In the spring I was in chemistry. Physically when we were in class, we were mixing different chemicals, making graphs. When we went online, it was inconvenient and very confusing. I had to ask all my friends — we ended up doing it together.”
She is loathe to be enrolled in more of the same.
A student with a Bright Futures scholarship, Maldonado has friends paying full-freight at private schools and taking the same online courses and are rethinking the investment. “I have a few friends trying to change schools.”
At the same time Maldonado is pining for in-person lab experiments, the student with underlying health concerns worries about the potential for the virus to spread particularly if her fellow students are blase with masks and distancing.
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.