KU announces shortened in-person fall semester to avoid COVID-19 resurgence

photo by: Associated Press

Students cross Jayhawk Boulevard in front of Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Story updated at 1:50 p.m. Monday

Joining other universities around the country hoping to prevent another wave of COVID-19 from taking hold in the fall, the University of Kansas announced Monday that it will shorten the time students are on campus for the fall semester.

The current plan is for classes to begin in person as scheduled on Aug. 24 and for in-person instruction to end just before the Thanksgiving holiday, Chancellor Douglas Girod announced. KU students will be encouraged to leave campus for the semester after in-person classes conclude.

After Thanksgiving, there will be a week for students to study for finals, which will then be conducted remotely, as they were during the spring semester.

“Undoubtedly, the fall semester will be unlike any in history. It will require flexibility, compassion and resilience,” Girod said in a campus message. “And it will require each of us to behave responsibly and in a way that benefits the entire community. If this pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we are all in this together.”

When students return to campus, they will be asked to sign a social responsibility pledge that documents their agreement to wear a mask when in situations where social distancing of at least 6 feet isn’t possible, Girod said. More information about what KU would ask of students will be communicated in the coming months, the chancellor said, but it was not immediately clear if the pledge was binding in any way.

As part of a safe return to KU’s campuses, Girod said testing and contract tracing for COVID-19 cases will be an integral part of a “science-based” reopening.

Watkins Health Services, KU’s on-campus health care provider, will partner with The University of Kansas Health System and Lawrence Memorial Hospital to coordinate the university’s testing and contact tracing efforts, Girod said. The partnership will also be coordinated with Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

“This partnership will enable KU to access our partners’ medical expertise, technology and data in ways that will benefit both our campus and the broader Lawrence community,” Girod said.

KU’s on-campus dining and housing facilities will be operating at “near capacity” in the fall, the university also announced Monday. Girod said those facilities will open with additional shared expectations and social distancing measures to prioritize those who live and work in the buildings. More information about those processes will be announced later in summer, he said.

Once classes resume, Girod said KU will add an additional five minutes between classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to avoid congestion in high-traffic areas such as campus buildings, walkways and buses.

KU, as the Journal-World reported last week, is also piloting a health monitoring app that allows those on campus to conduct self-assessments of any COVID-19 symptoms and access secured buildings based on their daily health status. Girod added that KU will mark each building to change traffic patterns to help decrease the campus’ density.

Girod said KU students should be on the lookout for changes to their fall schedules if they’ve already enrolled. The university will update students in July on how their individual schedules might change, the message said.

Finally, over the summer months, Girod said KU will provide instructors resources to offer their courses in multiple formats to accommodate both students able to attend classes and students who aren’t comfortable going to physical classes.

The university will also make accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for instructors who have preexisting conditions that put them at higher risk of complications should they get COVID-19.

To help limit the density of students in classrooms and allow for frequent cleaning, KU will schedule fall classes from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Monday through Friday, but most will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, Girod said. Saturday classes will be utilized as a last resort.

The university is also planning ahead for the spring semester, Girod announced. After the fall semester concludes, the spring semester will not begin until Feb. 1, 2021 — pending approval from the Kansas Board of Regents at its monthly meeting on Wednesday.

Because of the delayed start, KU will not have a normal spring break in the middle of the spring 2021 semester.

“Our goal is to maximize the in-person classroom experience to the greatest extent possible,” Girod said. “KU is committed to ensuring the majority of students, if they choose, have the majority of their courses with in-person instruction in whole or in part.”

Contact Conner Mitchell

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