Southern Utah, Dixie State universities to welcome students back for in-person classes in the fall

Sunlight beams through trees on the campus of Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, circa 2018 | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Joining the other colleges and universities in the Utah System of Higher Education, Dixie State University and Southern Utah University plan to welcome students back on campus this fall.

The Holland Commons Building, one of the newest buildings on Dixie State University campus, houses the Val R. Browning Library, St. George, Utah, Nov. 21, 2019 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

The Utah System of Higher Education COVID-19 Higher Education Task Force released the reopening plan Wednesday, which outlines a path for public colleges and universities to resume onsite operations after having been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 13.

According to a press release issued by the Utah System of Higher Education, the plan was made in collaboration with state and local leaders, public health departments and education experts to define a path allowing colleges and universities to bring students back to campus in person and resume many campus operations for the fall semester.

“Though we can’t fully predict what the fall will look like, we feel we are on a trajectory to welcome our students back to campus while taking necessary precautions,” said Dave Woolstenhulme, interim commissioner of higher education.

Woolstenhulme said they will continue to work to be as adaptable in their plans as possible as they receive updated recommendations from state and federal leaders to ensure a safe environment for our students, faculty, staff and broader communities.

Guidelines proposed in the plan include:

  • Disease prevalence must be low enough to safely resume campus operations.
  • Diagnostic testing supplies.
  • Contact tracing.
  • Higher education-specific health guidelines.
  • Adequate supply of personal protective equipment.
  • Healthcare surge capacity.
  • Liability protection.

In addition, institutions will be releasing individualized fall semester plans that will include:

  • A plan for repopulating the campus (likely a phased process).
  • A plan for active monitoring of health conditions to ensure the detection of infection.
  • A plan for containing and preventing the spread of the disease if detected.
  • A plan for shutting down operations in the event it becomes necessary, either because of a serious outbreak on campus or statewide orders from the governor.

Dixie State Provost Michael Lacourse told St. George News the university will be open in the fall. They are currently in the process of making preparations for this transition.

Above all, Dixie State’s number one priority is to ensure a safe learning environment for students and faculty, he said. And in order to meet the various needs of students and faculty, the university plans to offer flexible instructional formats.

Stock image, St. George News

“Certainly, we’ll have some face-to-face (classes). For students who feel more comfortable and prefer an online experience, then we’ll provide that as well,” Lacourse said. “We’re still working out exactly how that will play out. But we intend to offer both options for students based upon their preference and comfort level.”

This type of flexibility will also be available to instructors who are at-risk, he said, and they will be working on some classroom modifications.

“If a faculty member is in a compromised health situation or at-risk in some other way, then we will work with them to find a solution that works for them,” he said.

Lacrouse said they will start initiating the process of repopulating the campus next week.

“Starting next week, we will return to our offices on campus. Students will continue in remote learning for the summer. Although we do have a few classes that will be meeting face-to-face,” he said. “There are just some parts of higher education that are very difficult to do remotely. For example, if you’re a student taking a class in ceramics.”

Sewing masks at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News / Cedar City News

He said they will also continue to use masks and social distancing. Further details of the specific strategy are yet to be determined, but everything is in discussion with the aim of providing as normal of an experience as possible.

The classroom will be the main challenge when it comes to reopening campuses.

“That’s the place that the greatest concerns are right now in terms of coming back to school. Outside the classroom, there is more open space, so that’s probably going to look a little more normal than inside the classroom,” he said.

Residence halls are also a work in progress.

“It’s not going to be 100% normal, so coming back to campus is going to require doing things a little bit differently. I don’t think that it will take a long time to learn how to do things differently. It will just be a new normal.”

There are people who are going to feel more comfortable in taking precautions, such as wearing masks, than others will be, he said, but they are working toward providing an environment where, regardless of personal preference, people feel safe and that their rights are respected.

Southwest Technical College President Brennan Wood and Southern Utah University President Scott Wyatt sign documents relating to new dual partnership program between the two institutions, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St George News / Cedar City News

In a press release issued Wednesday, Southern Utah University also announced its reopening.

“This is a significant step in getting back to a sense of normalcy,” SUU President Scott Wyatt said in the statement. “However, when students come to campus for the fall semester, the on-campus experience will be slightly different. We’ll take precautions to protect our campus community. We all have a responsibility to protect each other. I can promise, though, we’ll still provide the atmosphere that makes SUU a great home away from home.”

Comprehensive reopening campus plans for both Dixie State and SUU are under development and will be released at a later date.

A return to face-to-face instruction in the fall — for all schools within the Utah System of Higher Education — remains contingent on a continuation of improving conditions in the state.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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