More details emerge on protocols for KU’s fall semester reopening; student violators of mask policy can face academic misconduct charges

photo by: Conner Mitchell/Journal-World

The Ekdahl Dining Center on the University of Kansas campus is shown with new protocols implemented to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Less than two weeks ahead of an unprecedented fall semester on the University of Kansas campus, Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer on Tuesday released a comprehensive list of actions KU has taken to prepare for the return of thousands of students, staff and faculty members amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While not everything mentioned in Bichelmeyer’s campus message was entirely new information, the list did provide a bird’s-eye view of just how differently KU will function in the fall compared to semesters past.

Here are the notable policies KU has adopted with the hope of slowing the spread of the respiratory virus, and all that is currently known about how they will be implemented:

Masks

Since June 18, KU has mandated the use of face coverings while in public spaces and buildings on its campuses — a policy which Chancellor Douglas Girod confirmed in mid-July would remain in place for the 2020-21 academic year.

That policy is still operating on an interim basis while KU officials draft an official policy and it goes through the university’s policy review and approval process.

Bichelmeyer reiterated Tuesday that masks were currently the most effective action a person could take in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Masks are required as part of any official campus activities, including classes that are held outdoors, the message said.

“Science shows us that the single act that can best protect you is one that only you can do, and it’s simple — wear a mask,” Bichelmeyer said.

What personal protective equipment will KU provide?

According to KU’s COVID-19 information website, faculty and staff will all receive the following personal protective equipment for use on campus:

• Two masks

• A personal-sized bottle of hand sanitizer (with bottle refill stations available around campus)

How will the policy be enforced?

Bichelmeyer’s message on Tuesday did not address how the mandatory mask policy would be enforced, and the university’s COVID-19 website does not delve into any enforcement mechanisms.

However, a memo posted Monday on the Provost Office’s website indicates that students who violate the mask policy in academic settings can face academic misconduct penalties up to their suspension from the course where the refusal to comply took place.

Authored by Chris Brown, KU’s vice provost for faculty development, the memo to university instructors says plainly that it will be considered academic misconduct if students don’t wear a mask in the classroom. First, instructors are expected to ask the student to put on a mask, and if they refuse, the student needs to leave the room.

If the student refuses to leave, Brown’s memo says instructors can dismiss the entire class — with the hope it will be made up online. Following an incident, instructors are then asked to report what happened to a new website, unmasked.ku.edu, and a staff member will follow up with the instructor if needed.

The case will then be turned over to the instructor’s chair or dean for them to follow through with academic misconduct procedures already in place at the university.

Repeated refusals by a student may lead to suspension from the course, Brown said. Students who come to an academic setting without a mask but comply when asked to wear one, or students who leave the room without incident, won’t be punished, per se. They will, however, receive an educational notice on their KU account asking them to comply with the policy for the community’s health benefit.

It is still unknown how violations of the policy by students outside of an academic setting, and for any faculty or staff members, will be handled.


Health screening and contact tracing

KU announced in June that it would serve as a pilot community for a new app, called CVKey, that conducts a daily personal health screening to monitor individuals for COVID-19 symptoms.

On Tuesday, and in some past messaging, Bichelmeyer confirmed that the app would be necessary to access buildings on campus during the fall semester. The app was created through an organization founded by Brian McLendon, a KU alumnus and the founder of Google Earth.

How does the app work?

The app asks questions each day of users regarding their current health status, any symptoms they might be feeling, and their recent travel history. If the user’s answers meet state and local health guidelines, it generates a QR code that will allow them access to buildings on campus for that day. If the answers don’t meet guidelines, it will recommend that they see a health care provider and possibly be tested for COVID-19.

Does the app track users or store data?

No. There is no data stored on the app, and there is no mechanism which would report answers that don’t meet health guidelines to any KU or local officials, the university says. The only information provided on the QR code is a “yes” or “no” on whether the user meets standards to enter public spaces on that day.

As such, the app also cannot be used for contact tracing. Legislation passed in June mandates that contact tracing in Kansas is voluntary, and individuals can choose whether to participate if they are contacted by a local health department official.

What about those without smart phones or who don’t want to use the app?

If someone doesn’t have a phone capable of downloading the CVKey app, or chooses not to use the app, there is a paper option for symptom-checking available, but a new version will be required every day and individuals will have to carry it with them from building to building, KU says.


COVID-19 testing

Bichelmeyer said Tuesday that anyone who expects they will be on campus on or before Sept. 7 will be required to take a saliva-based COVID-19 test.

Last week, KU announced that COVID-19 testing would, in fact, be mandatory for everyone in the community, but did not specify the Sept. 7 date as a benchmark to when a test would still be required.


Limiting travel

Some universities across the country have prohibited students from leaving their campuses during the fall semester to minimize additional risk of the virus spreading.

KU, Bichelmeyer’s message said, would not be that stringent. Students, faculty and staff who come back to Lawrence after traveling to a “COVID-19 hotspot” — a designation applied by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment — will be required to self-quarantine and monitor their symptoms for 14 days, but the travel itself is not banned.

Employees on the Lawrence campus and the Edwards campus in Overland Park can only travel for work if it is essential to their job’s function, Bichelmeyer said, or provides essential support to KU — for example, research or lab work. Conference presentations, she said, typically will not qualify as essential.


High-volume traffic areas

KU’s on-campus dining halls will open for the fall between Aug. 17 and the first day of classes on Aug. 24, Bichelmeyer said.

They will be equipped with new traffic flow patterns, plexiglass barriers, socially distanced tables, reduced seating, mobile ordering and touchless payment options, enhanced cleaning practices and more options for “grab-and-go” food.

Dining staff will be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms, the message said.

As for the KU bus system, which transports thousands of students to, from and around the campus on a daily basis, new protocols have also been implemented, Bichelmeyer said.

All drivers and passengers must wear a mask, buses will have a reduced capacity, drivers will have a plexiglass partition for added protection, and new daily, nightly and weekly cleaning protocols have been established.

KU’s fall semester will begin Aug. 24, and Bichelmeyer expressed her appreciation to the campus community for its adaptability during the unprecedented global health crisis.

“… Our situation during this pandemic is very fluid, and we can expect there will be new development and changes ahead,” she said. “I appreciate your patience and understanding as we adjust to new conditions, and we will make sure you are informed and that your questions are answered as we navigate the fall semester.”


Contact Conner Mitchell

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