TYLER, Texas — UT Tyler leaders say they are ready to have students back on campus this fall.
The school published a 21-page plan to keep students, staff, and faculty safe, including procedures to send everything online if need be.
"The entire campus was involved," Dr. Laura Jackson said. "Because we did have regular campus meetings that the president led and had feedback from the entire campus community.
Jackson, UT Tyler's assistant vice president for government and community affairs, chaired the Reboot UT Tyler Task Force. She says it had nearly 20 members who relied on feedback from students, staff, faculty, and medical experts in determining the best way to safely bring students back for the upcoming semester.
While students will take in-person classes, the plan calls for a hybrid educational model in which students rotate between attending class in person and attending on their computer.
"Maybe a class that meets on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, well, a third of the students will be in class on Monday, and then they'll attend online Wednesday and Friday," Jackson explained. "Another third will be in class on Wednesday, while they attend online on Monday and Friday."
Students in classes that meet twice a week will only attend in person once. Jackson says that will allow students in the classroom to space farther apart and prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is one of the accommodations meant to allow a return to campus in some form.
"A lot of it was the, you know, that—especially from our students' standpoint—that we need that human interaction," Jackson stated. "And so, how can we recreate that traditional college human interaction experience and stay safe?"
Jackson added that adopting this model would make it easy to go completely online in the event a COVID-19 outbreak forced the campus to close again. She says everyone did well with that in the spring, but having preparations in place would make a potential switch even more seamless.
Human interaction in the form of contact tracing will be one of the university's important methods to slow the spread of coronavirus. UT Tyler's human resources staff and Incident Response Team will lead a contact tracing effort should a member of the community test positive.
"When folks go to events," Jackson said. "We're gonna ask them to check into events, and so, then that way we do know who all you've been in close contact with, in close proximity with, so we can take those appropriate precautions."
Students, staff, and faculty will also be encouraged to keep a log of their activities, detailing where they go and when, and whom they contacted during those outings. That data will help contact tracers call other people who may have been exposed so they can get tested and isolate themselves.
All community members will have to complete online training regarding coronavirus before they return to campus. "You know, it's reminding folks,” Jackson said. “That you need to wash your hands, you know, we need to clean our work areas. Obviously, you know, the physical distancing."
Face coverings will be required any time someone enters a building or gathers outside if social distancing is not possible. The school plans to install 125 hand sanitizing stations around campus, and visitors will not be allowed in dorm rooms. However, Jackson says the university’s apartment-style housing would help minimize the risk. "When you look at UT Tyler's student housing,” she said, “it's not the traditional dorm with the community bath, and sort of what you think about from watching movies about college."
She says resident advisors would try to create the typical dorm atmosphere in different ways. "You may have a group of 10 students who are together, safely, physically distanced, doing an activity with their dormmates,” she said. “Then the rest of the dorm is doing it virtually."
Food service will be restricted to pre-made and to-go items, and seating would be reduced and spread out to encourage distancing. Study abroad programs have been shelved, and Jackson says there is no way to know when they would be able to resume.
Despite all the ways in which this will be an abnormal school year, Jackson says she is excited for it to begin. "We are really looking forward,” she said. “To having all of our students back on our campus in the fall. We're going to make it safe, as safe as we possibly can, but we are ready to see our students and to get back to the business of the university."
Classes will start August 24. Students will go home for Thanksgiving, but then stay home and take their finals online.
Jackson says anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 would be quarantined off campus for at least 14 days and may require a note from a doctor to return to campus.