College kids be prepared: ‘The traditional campus experience for students will be different from past years’

University of Florida
University of Florida campus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With the fall semester beginning in less than four months, Florida public universities are moving to reopen campuses during a public health crisis by coming up with plans to keep students and staff safe.

Classes may need to be “hybrids” – meaning both online and in-person instruction.

Students and college employees may need to be screened and/or tested for COVID-19. And students could be quarantined.

Athletics and extracurricular activities will need “specific protections and protocols.”

“The traditional campus experience for students will be different from past years, adapted to promote a healthy environment, as we all learn to co-exist with the COVID-19 virus,” according to a May 20 draft blueprint.

The Florida Board of Governors released safety guidelines in the draft, calling the document, “State University System of Florida Blueprint for Reopening Campuses.” The document will be considered for approval at Thursday’s board meeting.

The draft offers guidance and a variety of safety protocols from implementing COVID-19 testing at each university, to conducting hybrid education models.

“Universities should continue to explore new and creative ways to use technology to deliver classes in a variety of delivery modes using alternative instructional formats and hybrid combinations of face-to-face and online delivery modes…universities are encouraged to consider varied course scheduling and calendar options to accommodate alternative instructional delivery formats,” the blueprint states.

The State University System of Florida, the governing body for Florida’s public universities, made an announcement on May 18 that the 12 state colleges will reopen campuses in the fall under certain safety guidelines.

But there was little detail at the time, except that each university must develop individual plans by a board meeting on June 23, based on those safety and health guidelines.

Under the guidelines, universities will need to develop a “COVID-19 testing plan” that includes a screening process or survey to identify people who are at an increased risk of infection and need testing, such as those with a history of travel to COVID-19 “hotspots.”

Oftentimes, dorms and on-campus housing have crowded living quarters for students, raising concerns that an outbreak could occur in environments where social distancing is not always easy to practice.

To address campus infections, facilities must be identified that will be suitable for isolating positive virus cases until they are no longer infectious, according to the blueprint.

“Resources should be made available to provide care, counseling, and other services to these individuals and include the ability for quarantined students to continue their studies.”

For athletics and extracurricular activities, Florida universities will have to design “specific protections and protocols” for sporting events and “consider the campus’s current and projected health environment as it plans for the gradual and measured approval of student extracurricular activities,” including Greek organizations, while complying with CDC guidelines for COVID-19.

Regular cleaning and disinfecting of all campus facilities is expected, according to the draft. And there will be “consequences for non-compliance of all relevant national, state and university policies.”

The Florida Board of Governors will hold its meeting via conference call Thursday afternoon.