COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The Texas A&M University System Regents on Friday voted to reopen the System’s 11 university campuses for the fall semester, employing a mixture of face-to-face instruction with remote and online learning. They also directed the System’s eight state agencies to be fully operational by the fall.
The plan for the academic school year of 2020-2021 is general guidance that universities and agencies can use in tailoring their individual plans for reopening. The full document is here (https://www.tamus.edu/pdf/Reopening-Plan-REVISED-FINAL.pdf)
Chancellor John Sharp said the campus experience is invaluable in bringing camaraderie, offering personal experiences and reinforcing the traditions that shape students into the leaders of tomorrow.
“You can get a degree online,” said Chancellor Sharp ’72. “But it’s very hard to be an Aggie online.” He said the same held true for the other 10 campuses – each with their own rich traditions and opportunities for personal experiences.
The plan calls for social distancing by using smaller classes, longer class days to reduce congestion between classes, Saturday classes, adjustments to the academic calendar, and a phased-in arrival on campus in August and again in January. By July 31, each university should determine if face coverings are required in certain settings or just recommended.
Employees and students should be required to certify they have not been infected with the virus, do not have symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who does. Once enrolled, students will be encouraged not to leave the university community during the semester to avoid bringing the infection back to the student body.
Each university will determine which classes should be offered in a classroom setting, but almost all classes should be offered either as remote or online instruction. Students should be encouraged to leave the building between classes when possible to avoid congregating in hallways and lobbies.
Students with COVID-19 high-risk characteristics will be advised to consider their risk in deciding whether to return to campus. The decision will solely be that of the student, although the plan advises such students to take courses remotely from their permanent residences.
Universities and agencies may implement testing strategies, including targeted sampling of individuals at various times during the semester in accordance with public health and medical guidance. They may also consider other tools such as temperature monitoring, thermal scanning, testing for antigens or antibodies, assessment of congregating patterns to adjust learning or living spaces accordingly, and monitoring of wastewater effluent from key facilities to look for the spread of the virus.
Students testing positive will be encouraged to self-isolate at their permanent residence or will be quarantined in separate accommodations, if space is available. Class attendance should be recorded where possible to aid in contact tracing which will be coordinated with local health authorities and the Texas Department of State Health Services
In preparation for the fall semester, universities and agencies are directed to prepare facilities, obtain cleaning supplies and protective equipment, and develop processes and protocols for implementation of this guidance.
As part of that preparation, the institutions are asked to:
Adjust maximum capacity for each classroom or lab in accordance with COVID-19 physical distancing guidance from public health authorities.
Remove or “block off” classroom furniture to limit seating to the adjusted maximum capacity.
Add barriers where possible to encourage the separation of individuals.
Disinfect teaching spaces several times each day.
All agency and university facilities – libraries, recreation facilities, and student centers — will be open and operated under the appropriate precautions for the activity designed to occur in that space.
Activities such as clubs, lectures, fraternities/sororities, study sessions, and intramurals will be provided as much as is practical and safe. All face-to-face co-curricular activities must observe the precautions recommended by local health authorities, including physical distancing and face coverings.
Food service will resume with a greater emphasis on take-away options and less reliance on self-service buffets. There should be barriers between cashiers and customers and limited seating.
As for athletics, the guidance says the Texas A&M System supports the universities’ resumption of athletics in the 2020-2021 academic year, although timing and format will depend on an ongoing evaluation of conditions and direction from the athletic conferences of which the universities are members.