The University plans to start the Fall 2020 semester on-time and in-person, introducing various adjustments to academic operations, student life and public health measures, the University announced today. The announcement builds on a May 28 community-wide email that originally stated the semester would begin on Grounds Aug. 25, as originally scheduled.
The University’s executive leadership team — composed of University President Jim Ryan and Executive Vice Presidents Liz Magill, K. Craig Kent and J.J. Davis — confirmed that the semester will be held in-person until Thanksgiving and without a Fall Break, in order to minimize travel to-and-from Charlottesville. The University plans to have students remain home from Thanksgiving until the new year.
“This summer we are phasing in our return to on-Grounds academic life,” University leadership shared. “Guided by public health requirements, we are in the midst of a return to research in our labs; several schools have welcomed professional school students; and we are planning for more in-person educational offerings later in the summer. We do this planning even as we plan for the fall.”
The fall return will include public health measures that, the University notes, were and will continue to be made under the advisory of physicians and public health professionals. Face coverings — which the University is providing for all students, faculty and staff — will be required in all common spaces, and the University will provide physical barriers in libraries and at service stations.
While public spaces like labs, studios, libraries and study rooms will be open, individuals must keep a six-foot distance from one another for any interaction in a common space lasting longer than 10 minutes. The University will also enhance cleaning of classrooms and public spaces.
In-person dining halls will also operate with social distancing measures in place, including more options for takeout and seating a maximum of 50 guests, per Gov. Ralph Northam’s current guidelines governing Phase Two of reopening. Student activities such as in-person CIO meetings will also be limited to a maximum of 50 people, though virtual gatherings are encouraged.
Athletic teams will be able to train and compete on Grounds, with guidance from coaches as to how to do so safely. The University is still determining whether fans will be able to attend events.
Along with social distancing, face coverings, frequent hand washing and enhanced cleaning of the environment, the University plans to work with the Virginia Department Health to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan for students, faculty, staff and community members. These methods will be done considering rights to privacy granted by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
The testing plan requires students, faculty and staff to track symptoms daily using an app. Anyone who exhibits symptoms will be tested, and voluntary testing will be made available for those who are concerned but do not exhibit symptoms through an online schedule. The University also plans to contact trace community members who contract the virus and detect suspected clusters. Students who contract the virus living on-Grounds will be isolated, and exposed students will be quarantined — University housing has been set aside to do so.
“It is important to emphasize that both expert knowledge and developing technology around COVID-19 continue to evolve quickly,” the statement reads. “Relying on our expert team, we will be closely following all of this, and will stand ready to modify our plans in light of the best information and technology.”
As of Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Health reports 55,775 total cases in the Commonwealth, with 5,692 hospitalizations and 1,583 deaths. The Thomas Jefferson Health District — which includes Charlottesville and Albemarle County, as well as Nelson, Fluvanna, Louisa and Greene counties — reports 722 total cases. On June 7, the region saw its highest daily count of 41 cases reported in a single day. Just five cases were reported in Wednesday’s daily count.
In April, a model developed by University researchers found that if some social distancing requirements are lifted early, COVID-19 infections throughout the Commonwealth could peak mid-August at about 10,000 confirmed cases per day.
The University also calls on individual students’ and organizations’ adherence to student self-governance in order to hold one another accountable for public health guidelines, such as considering organized indifference to COVID-19-related mitigation policies as a possible violation of the University’s Standards of Conduct, which are subject to enforcement by the student-run University Judiciary Committee.
“We are working with students on a set of expectations that will govern student behavior on and off Grounds,” the email stated. Undergraduate, graduate and professional students can contribute ideas to a campaign designed to promote the University’s public health strategy.
Students who do not wish to return to Grounds will be able to access courses from wherever they are. Students who plan to return and live in on-Grounds residences are to confirm whether they will be returning by July 1. Additionally, faculty, staff and graduate teaching assistants who are unable to resume in-person work may request to teach remotely.
“While we hope and expect that many students will return to Grounds, we also know and appreciate that others will need to or choose to stay in their home communities,” the announcement said. “Regardless of where students are, our aim will be to provide all of them an engaging and enriching academic experience.”
All large courses will be online, and the University will determine which courses constitute “large” on a case-by-case basis depending on the format of the class, classroom capacity considering public health requirements and whether faculty are able to instruct in-person. Individual schools will contact students by the end of July, before the fall add-drop deadline for schedule changes.
The University’s standard grading options will apply in the upcoming year, rather than employing the CR/GC/NC policy enacted in the Spring. While the schedule for final exams is to be determined, any exams that would take place after Thanksgiving will be conducted virtually.
To promote course flexibility, the University will offer additional courses throughout the January and first Summer 2021 terms, which will be covered by the cost of regular fall and spring tuition. Per-credit tuition for Summer undergraduate courses is $407 for in-state students and $1,492 for out-of-state undergraduates. The University is in the process of assessing additional fees for the semester based on whether a student will be on Grounds or learning remotely — and is not planning to make any changes to its current tuition rates.
For first-years and upperclassmen living on Grounds, move-in will be staggered over multiple days. In on-Grounds residences, students will, by default, live in the standard double rooms, where they will be able to choose their roommates. Before move-in, first-years can access a virtual program offered through Orientation and New Student Programs for course registration assistance, focused training modules, community-building activities and opportunities to learn about what life on Grounds will look like this fall.
Students in residence halls who opt to move-in will be assigned specific sinks, stalls and showers, and communal bathrooms will have a limited capacity. Housing and Residence Life staff will also work to apply social distancing guidelines to communal spaces, along with other regulations such as assigning specific doors for entry and exit, if needed.
The University Transportation System will operate with regulations that include ending services at 10 p.m. for enhanced cleaning, moving the standee line away from the driver, reducing seating capacity by 60 percent and having passengers board through rear doors.
The University is also considering potential regulations for travel to-and-from Grounds. A decision on the status of Fall 2020 study abroad programs will be announced by June 30.
More information on the University’s operational changes can be found on its “Return to Grounds” website.