When students left campus for spring break, they couldn’t have known they wouldn’t be permitted back for the rest of the semester.
Now, it’s still uncertain whether students will be welcomed back to campus for the fall semester at all, let alone what in-person classes would look like in an era of social distancing.
“Our sincere hope is to have face-to-face classes,” Jeff Morris, vice president for communications and marketing, said. “We want to get people back on campus and back in classes. So that’s kind of one of our overriding goals.”
But normalcy, Kansas Board of Regents chair Shane Bangerter said, won’t happen if community spread continues in the state of Kansas.
The top priority for the university, President Richard Myers said, is the health and safety of the students. To come back to campus, there needs to be more widespread testing and some kind of herd immunity.
Kansas has one of the poorest testing capacities in the United States right now.
“We’re a long way from that right now,” Myers said. “Hopefully that will improve.”
Another threshold needed to reopen in the fall would be a decline in cases in Kansas. The state is expected to hit its peak number of cases in less than a week, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Kansas State has already made the decision to suspend regular campus operations through July 31, forcing summer classes online.
Emporia State President Allison Garrett spoke on behalf of all Kansas university presidents in the April Board of Regents meeting as she spelled out possible changes to what is considered normal on campuses across the state.
“Assuming that we begin face-to-face classes at the normal time in the fall, there may be some additional decisions that have to be made,” Garrett said.
Residence halls, for instance, could prohibit room sharing.
During a Virtual Town Hall on Tuesday, Provost Charles Taber advised university faculty to prepare for in-person classes, but design a course that could be taught online as well.
“We don’t have a crystal ball,” Taber said.
It is possible classes could start out online in the fall and shift to in-person classes as the situation changes. The inverse is true — classes could begin in-person, but could go back online, Taber said.
“It’s not an either-or situation,” Morris said. “If we start in person, we’d like to be able to finish in person. Of course, a lot of that depends on what happens with COVID-19 and whether or not it comes back in the fall or winter.”
Another option on the table is having some classes in-person, like labs, while others stay online.
Whatever decisions are made in the fall, Morris said, they have to be accommodating to all students, especially those with underlying health issues who are most vulnerable to becoming severely ill if they do get COVID-19.
Even then, some students might not feel comfortable returning.
“Some students probably won’t be willing to attend due to public health concerns even if we are open,” speaker of the student senate and junior in political science and communication studies Nathan Bothwell said.
It’s too “premature” to tell what the fall will look like, Morris said.
“We’re going to try to do this in a phased approach,” Morris said. “Nobody really knows for sure what it’s going to look like.”