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Board Of Governors Approves Plan To Bring College Students Back To Campus In Fall Amid COVID-19

The University of Florida's J. Wayne Reitz Union sits quiet and empty on the eve of the campus switching to online-only classes through the end of the month. (Sam Schaffer/WUFT News)
The University of Florida's J. Wayne Reitz Union sits quiet and empty on the eve of the campus switching to online-only classes through the end of the month. (Sam Schaffer/WUFT News)

With COVID-19 concerns still pressing on the Fall semester for Florida universities and others nationwide, the Board of Governors approved the State University System’s plans to bring students back to campus. 

The system that represents Florida’s 12 public universities proposed precautions that follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing, implementing the use of face coverings and hand sanitizers, and regular disinfection of university facilities. Those who’ve reported traveling to or from virus hotspots with community transmission should be prioritized for testing.  

“A COVID-19 testing plan is needed at every university to determine who in the campus community should be tested, when and how often they should be tested, to enable employees and students to return to campus in a controlled, phased-in approach,” the plans read

Florida has more than 53,000 reported cases and more than 2,300 deaths as of Thursday, according to the Florida Department of Health. 

Universities are advised to use hybrid teaching methods that include face-to-face instruction and online formats. The plans state that class sizes and teaching spaces should adhere to social distancing guidelines, and alternatives should be offered for those at higher risk of contracting the virus who are unable to attend in-person classes. 

The president of the United Faculty of Florida, Karen Morian, noted during public comment her support to bring students, faculty and staff back to campuses due to their economic value. 

“We know that public higher (education) in Florida is a driver of our economy, and so we need that engine fully filled as we drive toward recovery,” she said.   

Each university must submit their reopening plans to chancellor Marshall Criser by June 12, and the plans will be discussed June 23rd at an in-person board meeting at UCF.  

Before approving these measures, the board voted to distribute $265 million to state universities based on performance measures such as graduation rates, tuition fees and median wages of graduates. UF received the most money with $47.7 million. The University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida trailed behind with $35.2 million and $35.9 million respectively.  

Parker Maddox, an incoming freshman at UF, is appreciative that he is able to come to campus in fall, but said enforcing novel coronavirus guidelines might be a challenge since people have relaxed on following them as time passes. 

“Especially with a bunch of freshmen coming into college, they’re obviously not going to necessarily want to follow all of the rules the university set forth when it’s coming to meeting new people,” he said.  

Ben Mayo, a senior at UCF graduating in fall, said he prefers the online format because of its flexibility, but acknowledged he would feel differently if he were at a different stage of his degree. 

“I don’t feel like I’m being deprived of the college experience because I already had it pre-COVID, but that’s because I’m a graduating senior,” he said.

Fall plans for schools outside Florida such as Purdue University announced a similar approach of holding in-person classes with a hybrid format. Michigan State University will also go hybrid but only until the Thanksgiving holiday. The last three weeks of the semester will be strictly online due to “epidemiologic models that suggest a potential resurgence in COVID-19 cases in December.” 

The California State University system, however, decided to stay primarily online for the semester with the exception of courses unable to be conducted virtually such as clinical classes for nursing students.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at linamruiz@ufl.edu.​

Lina is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.