Ball State students to return to campus in the fall

<p>Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns speaks to the new graduates Dec. 14, 2019, at the John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State's Board of Trustees voted unanimously May 27, 2020, to approve plans for face-to-face instruction to begin on Aug. 24. <strong>Charles Melton, DN</strong></p>

Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns speaks to the new graduates Dec. 14, 2019, at the John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State's Board of Trustees voted unanimously May 27, 2020, to approve plans for face-to-face instruction to begin on Aug. 24. Charles Melton, DN

Ball State's Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to approve plans for face-to-face instruction to begin on Aug. 24, as scheduled for the fall 2020 semester, according to a university press release and Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns' campus-wide email.

This decision was made relying on the recommendations of two working groups, and recognizing the desire of students to return to campus for classes in the fall with their classmates and their professors, the press release states.

“We have heard from many returning and prospective students that they value the personal education that we uniquely provide,” Mearns said. “Our students told us they also want to participate in immersive learning projects, student life, and our vibrant campus experiences.”

The Board also authorized the administration to take several steps to advance the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and campus visitors.

Adjustments to the fall 2020 semester

According to the press release, Mearns said in the past month, the Academic Planning Group assembled and led by Provost Susana Rivera-Mills, reviewed a vast array of courses that Ball State offers to undergraduate and graduate students, and evaluated how faculty can use technology to improve learning.

It lists the following key components going into the fall semester:

  • Faculty will prepare classes that can quickly shift from being taught in-person to online, depending on conditions on campus and in the community.
  • Faculty will front-load learning activities best facilitated by face-to-face instruction so they are completed before the Thanksgiving break. After the Thanksgiving break, all remaining instruction, as well as all final projects and exams, will be completed online. According to Ball State's online calendar Thanksgiving break will last from Nov. 25-29.
  • The university will cancel the two-day fall break and will schedule class sessions on Labor Day. Ball State previously scheduled the fall break from Oct. 5-6. Students will have 13 weeks of on-campus instruction before the Thanksgiving break.
  • To accommodate faculty and students who may be in high-risk populations, the university will offer more online courses.

“The Provost and I fully appreciate that these adjustments will require additional preparation,” Mearns said. “We have great confidence in the dedication of our faculty and staff — and their determination to adapt and to innovate in order to serve our students and to fulfill our mission.”

Within two weeks, Rivera-Mills will provide faculty and staff with more detailed information, the press release states. She said the university is putting systems into place to support faculty as they design their bimodal courses.

“Our success is in the hands of our faculty and staff,” she said. “As a community, we will do all we can to support each other in this challenging time.”

Housing and Residence Life plan

The Board of Trustees authorized the university to implement a Housing and Residence Life plan to provide on-campus housing options for students, the press release and Mearns' email states:

  • To mitigate the risk of students transmitting the novel coronavirus while living in a residence hall, the university will adjust the room assignments to reduce the number of students who use the same restroom and other common areas.
  • Custodial staff will clean and sanitize these facilities more frequently than usual.
  • The university will retain a sufficient number of rooms in residence halls and in other university-owned facilities to quarantine and isolate students who may be exposed to or who may test positive for the COVID-19 virus.
  • In order to mitigate the risk of transmission in our dining halls, the university will continue to prepare all orders as “to-go” for students, as well as for faculty and staff.

Faculty and staff's return

The Board of Trustees also authorized the university to monitor and modify the "Return to Campus Plan" for faculty and staff. Mearns' email states this plan was developed based on recommendations the university received from the Task Force on Recovery and the University’s Strategic Transition (TRUST).

Beginning June 1, more staff and some faculty will begin to return to working on campus.

Before returning to campus, each employee must complete a self-certification form which has some questions about the employee’s health, including whether the employee has recently experienced any of the symptoms of COVID-19. Every employee is also required to perform a daily assessment of possible symptoms and all information will be maintained confidentially and separate from an employee’s personnel file.

According to the plan, all employees are strongly encouraged to wear face masks at all times while working on campus. An employee is required to wear a face mask when:

  • The employee is in the presence of other people and social distancing is not practicable.
  • The employee’s supervisor has determined that a face mask is necessary in order to ensure that a specific job can be performed safely.

Mearns' email states the university has ordered 50,000 reusable face masks for faculty, staff and students. The university plans to distribute two face masks to every faculty, staff and on-campus student who requests them.

The university will incorporate staggered and alternating work schedules, reconfigured workstations, remote work and other accommodations to limit density on campus and maximize safety, it states.

The university is also purchasing plexiglass barriers to be installed at employee work stations that involve regular personal contact with other people.

Beginning July 1, more staff and faculty will return to campus, particularly as the university anticipates resuming on-campus instruction in August.

In order to extend efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Board of Trustees authorized the university to implement flexible working environments and schedules with a goal of reducing by one-third the number of administrative personnel who work on campus at any one time.

To meet this goal, the university has developed guidelines for professional and staff employees and their supervisors.

Other new policies and procedures will focus on social distancing, employee health screening, crowd limits for public gatherings, university-sponsored activities and travel restrictions.

Additional protocols

The TRUST working group is developing specific recommendations for the implementation of other important health and safety measures, Mearns' email states.

Ball State is negotiating an agreement with a healthcare provider to make testing accessible on campus for anyone who is symptomatic. As part of this plan, the university will require anyone who tests positive to self-isolate for an appropriate period of time, and Ball State will conduct contact tracing consistent with the procedures established by the Indiana State Department of Health.

Public health experts also advise that large organizations should encourage employees to get a flu vaccination in the fall. The rationale for this advice is that, if the number of people with COVID-19 increases later this year at the same time the seasonal flu returns, there is a risk that healthcare providers will not be able to treat all of the ill patients.

Mearns' email states public health experts advise large organizations to encourage employees to get a flu vaccination in the fall semester, the rationale being if the number of people with COVID-19 increases later this year at the same time the seasonal flu returns, there is a risk that healthcare providers will not be able to treat all of the ill patients.

To minimize this risk, the Board of Trustees has authorized the university to expand access to and the availability of annual flu vaccinations for all students and employees.

Ball State’s operations will remain aligned with guidance from governmental agencies, public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the press release states. After regular review, any further changes will be posted on the university's COVID-19 website.

Board Chair Renae Conley said in the press release, she believes the university will fulfill its mission and is confident with the university's plan given that the recommendations were developed "by so many people carefully" and "on the best available research."

“They worked with deliberate speed to create our plans," Conley said. "We are on the right path.”

Matt Momper, vice chair of the board, said in the press release he is confident about the upcoming school year. He said he knows the university is doing everything to promote a safe and healthy environment for the ball State community and visitors.

“My daughter, who is a graduate student, also teaches two classes," Momper said. "From that perspective, I am confident in our plans to keep our classrooms as safe as we possibly can.”

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