Southern COVID-19 task force prepares for fall semester

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On May 7, Southern sent a survey to all students via email following a previous announcement that the campus will reopen for fall semester. The purpose of the survey was to help Southern’s Fall Campus Preparedness Task Force in making sure all areas on campus are ready to open up safely and appropriately. According to the email, the survey included questions that fell into two general categories: 1) How willing you are to live with additional safety precautions in order to minimize infection risk on a residential campus, and 2) What you feel your response would be if cases of COVID-19 were detected on campus during the Fall 2020 semester.

“While the current plan is for Southern Adventist University to open its campus back up to residential life for the Fall 2020 semester, we recognize that the university does not control how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out across the country over the next few months,” the email said.

The questions in the survey asked for student feedback in areas such as their likeliness to return and their willingness to abide by new procedures on a changed campus. As stated at the end of the email, the survey closed at 1 p.m. on May 15 . Results have not yet been released. 

According to Vice President of Student Development Dennis Negron, the task force will review all the feedback, make a final decision within the next week, and release an official document with new procedures and changes,  which is expected to be released on June 10. 

The official document will list new policies, safety and health regulations and describe what the Fall 2020 semester will look like in terms of campus life and social distancing rules. 

“For academics, we’re asking ourselves what we have to do to make sure that classes can be held safely,” Negron said. “…In residence halls, we’re looking at what we need to do to make sure that students living in the residence hall are safe. We’re looking at how we’re going to run Saturday night student association programs, intramurals, and Gym Masters.”

Additional considerations include enrollment numbers, handling legalities, hosting convocations, earning worship credits and the possibility of making classes a hybrid between online and in-person. According to Negron, an example of managing large classes to practice social distancing could be having students attend in-person class once a week by signing-up for which session they will be attending, and then meeting online for the rest of the week. 

In regards to enrollment and the legalities of returning to a changed campus amidst the coronavirus, Negron says there is a task force designated to look into all the legalities, as well as one that is focused on enrollment management and the financial implications that could result. 

“We have a group that’s looking into the legalities. If a student comes to school here and gets the coronavirus on our campus, what are the legalities of that? We’re looking at everything,” Negron said.

The enrollment management task force is taking into consideration the current enrollment numbers, the projected enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year and what those numbers might mean for areas such as residence life and finances. Numbers for incoming freshmen are currently better than last year’s numbers, according to Negron. However, transfer student numbers are lagging. 

“If there is a silver lining here, last year our transfer student numbers lagged from the previous year, yet still turned out okay once the semester began,” Negron said. “Retention of former students though will be key, but those numbers I have not received yet.” 

Students, parents and faculty can expect to receive a document via email on June 10 that will entail new policies and procedures, as well as the plan for what the 2020 fall semester will look like.

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