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Winthrop University Has 'Pivot Plans For Everything' As Classes Resume In Pandemic

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Winthrop University
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Classes officially started Tuesday for students at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Nearly 6,000 students will take courses, mainly remotely, this fall. School officials say buildings have been sanitized, maintenance workers have been provided protective gear, and students returning to campus will begin moving into dorms by appointment Sept. 2-7.

Adrienne McCormick, Winthrop’s provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, and Sheila Higgs Burkhalter, vice president for Student Affairs, join us to talk about the university’s reopening.

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Credit Winthrop University
Sheila Higgs Burkhalter

Sheila Higgs Burkhalter: We have approximately 1,700 students coming back into the residence halls. Typically, we would have close to 2,400. We are certainly asking people to go through a screening process before we check them into our halls to understand what their health is. And then once they're there, we have some pretty stringent protocols that we're asking them to abide by while they're in the halls. We've been clear with our students that if quarantine and isolation becomes necessary, then we've asked them to put in plan a place to return to their homes. We certainly have a small subset of students who would not be able to do so because they are international, and so we have limited quarantine and isolation housing on campus.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Will testing be ongoing?

Burkhalter: At this time, we are not requiring students to be tested in order to come to our campus. We're working with DHEC, which is the department of health and the state of South Carolina, to secure testing materials, and they will keep us stocked as long as we need it.

Glenn: And let me ask you: Why did you make the decision not to require testing before they come on campus?

Burkhalter: We continue to assess whether or not we think it's important for us to do that. But our initial thinking around this was it was not recommended by DHEC, it was not recommended by the CDC. And so, for us, we feel like some of the other things that we have in place will help us to secure our environment. We've instituted a masking requirement for students to attend class, to attend events on campus.

And we're making it a little bit easier for students who might show up without one because we have health kits that include a mask and some other materials that will ensure that our students will be safe. And then in terms of facilities like our campus center, all the furniture has been spaced out. We have new equipment checkout protocols. The equipment that is more stationary has been spread out. Some pieces have been removed.

Glenn: And you mentioned masks. That's a requirement. Will there be fines for students who don't wear masks, or will students be asked to leave the campus if they have repeated offenses?

Burkhalter: If we start to see multiple offenses from a person then, at the very end of that process, yes, there's the possibility that a person could be dismissed from the campus. Adrienne is our academic person. I'm going to let her talk with you a little bit about how the courses will be delivered.

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Adrienne McCormick

Adrienne McCormick: So, we are having a mixture of in-person, hybrid and fully online classes. And currently, it's about a one-third mix for all of the different modalities. So, for those students for whom we have scheduled some in-person activities, we made the decision that we would delay the start of those for two weeks while we were watching the case rates in the state of South Carolina.

Glenn: Physical education classes and things like dance: How will those be spaced out?

McCormick: So, for dance, for example, you might have typically 12 students in a studio. We would have synchronous events in two different studios — six and six students. So we're putting the technology in place and co-teachers so that the class can happen but with enough physical distance, and have air purifiers and very particular cleaning protocols for a dance floor or dance barres, for example. They're very different from just if it were a desk. 

Glenn: Looking at what's happening at other schools: USC, Chapel Hill, N.C. State. They have all had to go remote, and I know you guys are mainly remote. Are you looking at the (classes), ones that are in person, that you might have to shut those down if cases go up as they have on other campuses?

McCormick: We are definitely watching what's happening on other campuses and they decided to return their students earlier and then have to send them back, and we have pivot plans for everything. And so ideally, we want to bring students back, but if we had to pivot back to fully remote, then we shift to that plan.

Glenn: Sheila, would you like to add to that?

Burkhalter: Sure. I think what I would add to that is we remain ready to do whatever needs to be done based upon what our senior leadership decides or what the environment is dictating at that time. And so, yes, there's always a current of worry there, but we think that's probably a good thing because it keeps us on our toes. It keeps us reading and paying attention to what's happening so that we ultimately make the best choice for our students, their families and the community.

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