University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley outlined the university’s plan – which includes a requirement to wear masks – to keep students, faculty and staff safe as the fall semester begins during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Riley presented the UAFS plan during a special meeting of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday (July 15). UAFS will require, at a minimum, for face coverings to be worn anytime a physical distance of six feet cannot be assured, Riley said.
Earlier in the meeting the board of trustees unanimously passed a resolution that directs each campus, division and unit in the UA system to adopt a policy that “requires the use of face coverings by students, faculty, staff and guests in university facilities” where the six-foot physical distance cannot be maintained.
“It is hard to imagine any indoor venue that would not require one,” John Goodson, chair of the board of trustees, said during the meeting held in Little Rock.
Riley noted there will be exceptions in dining halls and at other times when wearing a mask is not feasible. She said UAFS students living on campus would not be required to wear masks in their own rooms, only in public spaces. Masks also will not be required when someone on campus is alone, in private offices or outdoors, the plan states.
To help with masks, faculty and staff will be given two reusable, washable UAFS face masks, along with one face shield; one tub of 300 disinfecting wipes (two for faculty); one can of Lysol; and one box of gloves. Disposable face masks will be available on campus for visitors or those who “inadvertently leave masks at home and need them,” Riley said.
Students and employees also will be asked to self-monitor daily, and anyone with COVID-19 symptoms are asked to not attend work, school or campus events if symptomatic. There will be many hand-sanitizer stations throughout the campus with a locator map available on the UAFS website. Plexiglass shields also have been installed in high-traffic offices and counters, and there are no-touch thermometers in all main offices.
SEMESTER START, MOVE-IN CHANGES
The UAFS fall semester will begin Aug. 17. Labor Day and fall break will be observed as normal, but students will not return to campus for the semester following the Thanksgiving break. This will allow the final week of classes and all final exams, which will be delivered online, to not be affected by anyone returning to campus who might have contracted the virus during a visit.
Students and employees are encouraged to observe a 14-day self-quarantine prior to the first day of class. International students will be required to do so with those who live on campus being allowed to move in early enough to do so. As for general student move-in, there will be staggered move-in for residence halls and those who can help a student move in to their rooms will be restricted.
“That means that those of who love to go to move-in day and help students move-in and meet their families won’t get to participate in that this year. We are limiting the number of people who can help any student move in to the residence halls, even limiting elevator usage by families only,” Riley said.
The university also will hold several apartments in Sebastian Commons for quarantine in the event that is needed. Any student who is in quarantine there who is on a meal plan will have meals delivered.
University administrators have put in exception requests with the Arkansas Department of Health concerning large gatherings for in any of the larger events where they already know there will be a great deal of student participation, such as Cub Camp and Welcome Week, Riley said.
In order to help faculty and staff, those who have higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19 or care for those with higher risk will be allowed to work remotely. More than 100 faculty have requested to move one or more classes online and more than 25 staff have requested to work remotely, Riley said.
CLASS INSTRUCTION OPTIONS
As far as instructional options, the semester will be made up of some classes being fully online, some being synchronous online, some hybrid and some alternating hybrid in order to limit how many students will be in one classroom at a time.
Synchronous online classes will have full online delivery with a required time for students to log in and join a discussion and lecture, much like attending a class only via an online video feed.
Hybrid classes will be mostly online with a reduced class meeting schedule of at least 1/3 of standard time but no more than 2/3 of standard time.
Alternating hybrid classes will have students attending alternating sessions per week as directed by the professor. An example would be 1/3 of students attending on Monday, 1/3 on Wednesday and 1/3 on Friday. Students not attending on campus for a class would meet with the class via computer.
Administration also made the decision for fall commencement to be virtual in December.
“We take very seriously our obligation to provide the safest learning environment possible. I appreciate the resolution passed by the trustees, which allows us to provide added layers of protection for UAFS Lions,” Riley said.