By Susan Tebben
Some of Ohio’s colleges and universities have begun moving students in, but the navigation of a school year amid a pandemic is still a balancing act.
For Miami University, classes began this week, with all undergraduate courses online or remote. The plan is to keep it that way until at least Sept. 21, according to the plan posted to the school’s website.
“When we began planning last spring, we had hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic would be in significant decline before classes were scheduled to begin,” Miami president Greg Crawford told students. “Instead, cases are rising in many states. With 40% of our Oxford students coming from outside Ohio, we’ve been monitoring the situation closely.”
Those that are on campus are required to wear masks, and as students come back, they can be reported to the Office of Community Standards if they repeatedly refuse to comply with an instructor’s direction to use a mask or face covering.
Mask requirements are the norm among Ohio’s public colleges and universities, as are 14-day quarantines for students coming from states considered COVID-19 hotspots.
Also the norm this school year are phased reopenings, like those at The Ohio State University, Ohio University, Kent State University, Shawnee State University, Cleveland State University and the University of Cincinnati.
The first move-in dates for UC, Aug. 14 and 15 were considered “drop-off only,” meaning students could bring their stuff to campus, but then had to return home until the 16th.
Another regular part of public colleges’ and universities’ schedules is a return to at least some form of in-person class instruction that ends after Thanksgiving break. The last two weeks, including final exams, will be taken remotely at OSU, Central State University, UC, KSU and Wright State University, among others.
Kent State and the University of Toledo have eliminated their fall break to allow students to receive a full semester despite adjusted opening dates.
Toledo said they adjusted their Fall semester “based on the possibility of having a second wave of COVID-19 in late fall,” taking into account CDC data on the pandemic and state recommendations for higher education.
Bowling Green State University went so far as to cancel their Winter 2021 session and provide a $1,500 credit for the first 2,000 students who cancelled their housing assignment before the school year began this week.
“It is important you understand that we are HIGHLY encouraging you not to live on campus this fall,” information on the university’s COVID-19 plan page stated.
BGSU started their staggered move-in this week for those that had no other option than to take up residence, and are set to begin classes on Aug. 31. Students there will also be online only beginning Nov. 30.
OU phased in their reopening by allowing certain graduates and undergraduates “in a carefully selected set of academic programs” to begin their time on campus. Most students will begin remotely on Aug. 24, but students like third-year students in the College of Health Sciences and Professions’ nursing program and juniors and seniors in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) are eligible to participate in the university’s first phase of schooling.
Universities throughout the state sticking with in-person instruction have instituted class-size reductions, along with “hybrid-remote” forms of teaching. Central State spelled out a “cohort attendance” model in its reopening plan, which would break large classes into groups, with the cohorts attending classes on alternating days. This model goes along with a 50% reduction in class sizes, something Wright State anticipates as part of its plan as well.
“At this time, the university conservatively estimates that one-third of classes will have in-person components while the majority of in-person classes will also deliver all content remotely to provide flexibility to students who are unable or do not feel comfortable returning to campus,” said Wright State president Susan Edwards in a letter to the university community.
Many of Ohio’s public higher education institutions have also created pledges for students connected to prevention of coronavirus, and in some cases can spur disciplinary action if not signed.
Testing and contact tracing for COVID-19 are a regular part of all public school plans, though the ways in which the testing is done vary from school to school.
The spring semester plan is still to be determined for most schools. The University of Akron plans to continue hybrid online and in-person instruction into the spring, but others are still watching the success of their fall semesters to plan for the future.
“Decisions are forthcoming,” stated the UC reopening plan.
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.