Last Friday, The University Of West Florida Board Of Trustees approved a draft plan to reopen the school to students in the fall. That plan was approved by the Florida Board of Governors Tuesday.
“I’ll ask for a motion to approve the University of West Florida reopening plan for Fall of 2020,” said UWF Board of Trustees Chairman Dave Cleveland during a virtual board meeting on Friday morning, asking for board approval of the university’s draft plans to reopen in the Fall. The plan was unanimously approved.
With that approval, the draft reopening plan will be presented to the Florida Board of Governors. The plan calls for safety and virus prevention measures in all facets of the school operations. Some of the plans still need to be finalized, including the drafting of the academic schedule.
“First and foremost, I want everyone to understand that the academic delivery plan framework is just that. It is a framework" said UWF’s chief academic officer Provost George Ellenberg. "This is a fluid and dynamic environment, and we cannot, as of today, say exactly what the Fall semester will look like as we look toward a July 1 deadline for establishing the fall schedule.”
The Fall academic schedule had already been established in the Spring. At that time the idea was that the pandemic would be over by fall. “And no one was really thinking that we would still be in this situation today" said Ellenberg. "So we are working right now with faculty, with chairs and with deans to solidify that Fall schedule and make any changes that are needed.”
Ellenberg says there are four cornerstones to the reopening plan: safety, quality, flexibility and creativity.
“If there is a time for that creativity in terms of academic program delivery, this is it. And I have every confidence that our faculty, being the creative faculty members that they are and the wonderful teachers that they are, will certainly rise to this occasion as they did in the Spring, as they are doing now in the Summer, and we will continue in the vein in the Fall.”
Part of that creativity will be dealing with reduced classroom capacity. The plan calls for fewer face-to-face courses, and a bigger reliance on on-line and hybrid courses to conform to CDC guidelines. The UWF Facilities Management division is working hard to find the most efficient ways to clean classrooms during the school day.
Ellenberg also announced a major change in the schedule of the school year. There will be no face-to-face classes on campus after the Thanksgiving break.
“There was a great deal of support for this. We surveyed the faculty and there was a high response rate and about 80% of the faculty said that they agreed that this would be a good idea. Not to bring large numbers of students back after the Thanksgiving break. The Student Government Association also supported this switch. And I will say that this does not mean that this semester ends after Thanksgiving, this simply means that we will switch to remote instruction for the last weeks and for exams to end the Fall semester.”
Keeping students safe and healthy is also a big part of the plan. The student health center on the UWF campus will devote two hours a day to testing students for the coronavirus. Testing will not be mandatory for all students, but it will be readily available to all students with no out of pocket costs.
“Another thing that we are going to implement is having mobile mini test sites,” said Betsy Bowers, the vice president for Finance and Administration at UWF. “One day we’ll be over at one of the residence halls, another day we might be over at University Commons. We’ll widely advertise where the mini testing procedures will be held.”
Bowers says if there is a positive test, human resources will be notified and contact tracing will be done. Also masks will be required for all students when proper social distancing is not possible. If a student or staff member does not comply with this rule, they will be asked to leave campus.
In a video produced by UWF, President Martha Saunders sounded eager to welcome back the students and staff. “I am looking forward to seeing you all in the Fall" said Saunders. "It’s going to be a little different here. We’re going to have protocols in place to keep us all safe. And as the advice changes from our health advisors, then our protocols will change. We’re really asking everybody to be as flexible as we can.”
The return to campus draft plan was developed using a blueprint provided to the state university system by the Florida Board of Governors. The board approved the plan at their Tuesday, June 23 meeting.