Colleges And COVID-19: 'There's Not A Game Plan On How You Do This'
Most college students haven’t been in a classroom since spring break. As these students get ready to start college, COVID-19 continues to change the way they learn, socialize and interact.
UNC Chapel Hill junior Righteous Keitt started classes – remotely – on Monday.
“I am having a great time when it comes to taking courses,” Keitt said. “It has been a lot more comfortable, you get a lot more time to get work done.”
But Keitt does miss the traditional on-campus activity.
“I wouldn't mind once everything is over, to resume going back to regular classes,” he said.
Last semester, when the coronavirus outbreak started, the political science and public policy double major found himself one moment on spring break, and the next going home to Charlotte as COVID-19 shut down campuses across the nation.
Now, he’s back on campus as a residential assistant and helping the 30 students he’s in charge of get used to college — and a new normal.
“The cafeteria is now, instead of a place where you can kind of eat with your friends, most students get to-go boxes and then eat outside,” Keitt said, adding that libraries and other hangout spots are noticeably emptier. “There isn't much time to linger.”
At other colleges, students and parents are navigating getting an education and staying safe.
Kermit Billups’ son John is a junior, double majoring in English and economics at Davidson College.
The family lives in Maryland but is planning on bringing John back to North Carolina in a few weeks. They not only are sending him back with the usual school supplies but also items like masks and hand sanitizer to keep him safe.
“We, as a family, are certainly very concerned,” Billups said, adding that all travel between states will not be via air. “We want to wake up every day being prayerful and asking for direction and guidance.”
Johnson and Wales University of Charlotte will have remote learning with some in-person instruction, while Queens University of Charlotte will be completely remote.
Johnson C. Smith starts on Sept. 8, but the campus remains closed for the fall semester.
The university’s president, Clarence Armbrister, says it’s a decision all schools in the area are facing.
“It was a very difficult decision because we know that for many of our students, the best place for them is on campus,” Armbrister said. “We were just concerned that the prevalence of the contagion in the area at the time and our ability to address it safely, comprehensively was of some concern.”
UNC Charlotte Chancellor Sharon Gaber sat in a tent outside Wednesday, answering questions from reporters about the university’s plans. It was hot, and fans were blowing nearby to keep her cool -- but outside is safer.
“There are no plans to shut down completely, Gaber said. "What we are doing is modeling what does it look like should we need to. We want everybody to be safe and healthy, so we are trying to work with everybody on a case-by-case basis.”
Green and white shuttles passed down calm streets nearby, and few students were out walking.
UNC Charlotte classes start Sept. 7 online with plans for hybrid in-person and online learning starting later in the semester.
Gaber said the campus will have COVID testing centers in addition to social distancing. The school is also working on a notification plan if a student tests positive for the coronavirus.
“Perhaps the students that were sitting within a perimeter of that individual would be notified through a contact tracing,” she said. “I can’t tell you for sure that if the student that is 30 feet away would be notified because they aren’t at imminent risk associated with it.”
UNC Charlotte is keeping many activities, like sorority rush and freshman welcome, virtual in the meantime.
Faculty and staff members have filed a lawsuit against the UNC System saying returning to campus puts them at risk for contracting COVID-19.
Gaber acknowledges these are difficult times and says the coronavirus pandemic makes planning a challenge.
“The tricky part right now is there’s not a game plan on how you do this because we haven’t done it before," she said. "So, we’re all hoping to get through this and be able to plan into the future.”
While colleges have been planning on what a socially distant semester looks like, they are also aware that the pandemic can completely change the best-laid plans without warning.
LOCAL COLLEGE PLANS
Updated Aug. 23
Students will begin their 2020 fall semester like never before. Universities and colleges are coming up with plans on how to best get through the semester during these unprecedented times. We have created a list of what college students and their families can expect from Charlotte-area schools.
The University of North Carolina Charlotte
Classes at UNC Charlotte will resume online on Sept. 7 and will be hybrid for the fall. Approximately 50% of the classes will be face-to-face or hybrid, and the other 50% will be taught online.
The university initially planned to have some in-person undergraduate classes Sept. 7 but those have been delayed to Oct. 1, with all classes starting virtually Sept. 7.
The university will have contact tracers on campus to keep students and faculty informed while obeying HIPPA laws.
Student activities such as the Greek rush will be virtual. Throughout the campus, there are hand sanitizing stations and signs reminding students and faculty that masks are required.
Dine-in seating has been reduced to 50% capacity and is spaced to ensure social distancing. Guests will be reminded to stand six feet apart while in line.
Public spaces, such as bathrooms and residence halls, will be cleaned multiple times a day. Students are asked to practice physical distancing and refrain from large gatherings. Areas such as study lounges, meeting rooms and common area restrooms are locked.
UNC Charlotte released a statement on Aug 17. after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill abruptly ended their in-person classes. UNC came to this change after 130 students tested positive for the coronavirus. UNC Charlotte said it would continue as planned but "allow students to cancel their on-campus housing contract for the upcoming semester without penalty."
Johnson C. Smith University
Classes at Johnson C. Smith University will resume on Sept. 8. JCSU will be completely virtual this fall. President Clarence Armbrister said that he came to that decision after speaking with local universities and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the southeast.
The university also canceled events such as athletics and homecoming activities this fall. Students can still participate in club activities, but they will remain virtual.
“We are looking forward to having a student government association and interest clubs to be developed," Armbrister said. "Quite frankly, they might be new ones ... (that) develop because of the nature of not being together."
Spring semester plans have not yet been determined.
Queens University of Charlotte
Classes at Queens University will resume Aug. 24. They will be virtual this fall semester without residential activities or athletics.
Queens University president Daniel Lugo said that the university came to this decision in part because "The South is particularly hard hit, with most southern states, including North Carolina, currently on the national hot spot list."
The campus is open to international students and selected others. Certain exceptions to on-campus housing and instruction will be made for hardships and specialized programs, such as nursing students, who still have in-person clinical at approved sites.
Classes at Davidson College will resume on Aug. 20. Davidson College will provide hybrid learning, and will be 50% face-to-face and 50% online learning. The college will create indoor and outdoor spaces to accommodate classes and utilize varied campus spaces for additional classrooms. Students will be six feet apart inside the classroom.
Davidson College says it will accommodate students who are uncomfortable coming on campus.
If a student gets sick, they can still take classes online.
The college has expanded the time between classes to 20 minutes.
Additionally, more evening classes have been added to their schedule.
Johnson and Wales University
Classes at Johnson and Wales University resume on Aug. 31. The university will allow some students on campus, including first-year students of all majors, students on internships and those enrolled in classes that require a laboratory component. Returning students who are taking non-lab academic classes will attend classes online.
Students can find out whether their course will be offered in-person or online at jwuLink.
For all 58 community colleges in North Carolina, face-to-face learning has been paused for a vast majority for the classes, with most taught online. The only students who will have classes in person will be nursing and first responder students.
Alexandra Watts joined WFAE as a Report for America Corps Member in 2020 in the unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library using radio and Wikipedia to fill news deserts.
Dante Miller joined WFAE as a Report for America Corps Member in 2020 in the unique partnership using radio and Wikipedia to fill news deserts.
Click here for the latest coronavirus news on WFAE’s live blog.
Sign up here for The Frequency, WFAE’s daily email newsletter.
What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.