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Florida's Universities Could Reopen In Fall With Coronavirus Guidelines In Place

Based on the guidelines, universities will present individual plans for the fall semester during a June 23 meeting.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

State university system Chancellor Marshall Criser next week will present guidelines for reopening university campuses in the fall, after students were sent home in March to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Criser is slated to offer the guidelines during a May 28 meeting of the university system’s Board of Governors, the system announced Monday. Based on the guidelines, universities will present individual plans for the fall semester during a June 23 meeting.

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A university-system task force has been working in recent weeks on the issue of reopening campuses. Board of Governors Chairman Syd Kitson said early this month that the task force included leaders of each of the universities.

“The task force is focusing on developing guidelines that will prioritize the health and well-being of students, faculty, staff, vendors, and visitors as our institutions continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kitson said in a prepared statement Monday. “Our measured and thoughtful approach will be informed by science and medical professionals, and we are working hard to develop sound guidelines that enhance campus safety, as well as continue to meet the board’s rigorous academic performance and student success goals.”

Students at the 12 universities finished the spring semester through online courses, which will continue during the summer. But uncertainty has remained about whether they would return to campus classrooms in the fall or whether they would continue distance learning.

Along with students, parents, faculty members and administrators facing uncertainty, decisions about fall semester also will have major financial implications for universities. Some university officials have pointed to a need to announce decisions by early to mid-July to be prepared for the start of the semester.

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Universities have looked at a variety of scenarios and potential issues, including holding some classes in person and others online and pushing back the first day of classes. Also, they have looked at extensive testing for the virus and limiting available space on campus for in-person classes to abide by social distancing guidelines.

In the announcement Monday, the university system said the task force working on the issues “has recognized that each university has a dedicated mission with unique strengths and characteristics, as well as an extraordinary environment that includes densely populated urban areas, more rural settings and students from all regions of the state, the nation, and the world.”

The announcement came on the same day that part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to reopen the state economy moved forward, with restaurants and retail stores able to serve more customers and gyms able to reopen. Also, Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which lead Florida in COVID-19 cases, were allowed to join the rest of the state in reopening.

Universities throughout the country are confronted with similar decisions that Florida is making. Last week, the California State University system, which includes 23 campuses, said it primarily plans to use distance learning during the fall, with limited exceptions for such things as clinical classes for nursing students and laboratory classes for certain science students.

“This combination, really a myriad of factors, will result in variability across the 23 campuses due to specific context and circumstances, but predominately there will be limited in-person experiential learning and research occurring on campuses for the fall 2020 term,” Timothy White, the California system’s chancellor, said in a statement. “On some campuses and in some academic disciplines, course offerings are likely to be exclusively virtual."

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Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.