For Penn State, it’s back to school in person this fall.
In an email sent to Penn State students and employees Sunday, the university said that it plans to return to on-campus classes. The email from President Eric Barron emphasized the priority the univeristy puts on health and safety. It comes at a time when experts warn of the chance of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, possibly in the fall.
Barron said classes will switch to remote learning after Nov. 20. Students typically return to campus after Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 26 this year. The semester will end Dec. 18, as planned.
In making the announcement, Barron said the university’s 16 task forces have been developing a return-to-campus plan, and that Penn State is meeting or exceeding the state’s expectation.
“Things will be different on our campuses depending on how the pandemic unfolds across the commonwealth,” Barron said in a video message. “This is complex. We will continue to make changes and work with our faculty, staff and students and evolve our plans over the summer.”
He said the university will be “nimble and flexible” in attendance with students and employees, so sick people stay home, and accommodations are made for those who are high-risk.
Penn State has about 97,000 students, including about 47,000 at the University Park campus. About 14,500 live on campus at University Park, while the rest live off-campus.
The university’s announcement says the plan is to have students and staff return to campuses starting this summer, in phases.
Among the steps the university says it is taking is having a place to isolate and quarantine people who do get COVID-19. The plans include hiring contact tracers and have a testing and contact-tracing program in place.
Students and employees are expected to continue to follow social distancing and wear masks, with students being asked to sign a pledge that they will follow the guidelines both on-campus and off-campus. The announcement does not offer details on steps that will be taken in dormitories.
The announcement also notes:
- Employees will be brought back in phases, starting with those whose work can be better performed on-campus;
- There will be a mix of in-person, online and remote classes;
- Classes with more than 250 students will be delivered online;
- Plans may vary depending on the campus, depending on the state's COVID-19 restrictions; and
- The university is asking returning students to self-quarantine for two weeks before coming back to campus;
- In a change to cut back on traveling, there will be classes on Labor Day.
Penn State senior and Spanish major Avery Olah-Reiken welcomed the news.
"I'm excited to be amongst the Penn State community that I love so much, and be back with my friends on campus," he said.
In March, before students returned from spring break, the university switched to remote learning as COVID-19 began to appear in Pennsylvania. That online learning continued through the summer.
The university already announced the cancelation of study abroad programs this fall.
Almost all faculty and staff have been working remotely since March. In an online letter to university leaders, faculty raise concerns about how the Penn State administration has been responding to the pandemic.
“Especially troubling is the limited amount of input faculty, staff, and graduate employees have had on decisions related to our safety, job security, allocation of resources, and academic freedom to teach in the manner we deem most effective at this time,” the letter reads, in part.
It goes on to ask for several things, including letting instructors decide whether to teach and meet in-person; including faculty in decisions that affect them; and committing “to drawing on its many financial resources to ensure the maintenance of programs and positions across all of our campuses.”
The university had already signaled its intention to return to on-campus life. It began bringing athletes back June 8. Still unclear is whether the Nittany Lions will be able to play with fans in the stands at Beaver Stadium.
The university will host a town hall for faculty and staff at 3:30 p.m. June 19, and one for students and families at 3:30 p.m. June 22 at https://liveevents.psu.edu/.
WPSU intern Andrew Destin contributed to this report.