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Phase Two Reopening Plan

Updated June 11, 2020

As conveyed in my May 8, 2020, letter to the University community, our plan is to reopen campus in the fall. In a subsequent letter of May 26, 2020, I provided additional background on the motivation for our decision to reopen in August.

We are writing now (1) to explain some of the primary health and safety protocols that are being implemented, (2) to specify how classroom practices must be modified to comply with standards we must subscribe to and that are required for our reopening plan, and (3) to explain the process for faculty and staff seeking accommodation because of health conditions that place them at increased risk of a severe case if they contract the virus. Our focus on safety is coupled with our commitment to maximizing on-campus classes and life, given their centrality to a Western New England education as it has always been envisioned. 

Impact on the work of course instruction

It is our intention to conduct as many classes as possible on-ground and in-person, consistent with the engaging and interactive teaching synonymous with a Western New England education. To the extent possible, faculty members should expect to teach their classes in person. But because we must be prepared to deal with different scenarios, we need to prepare for a hybrid approach which will involve a combination of in-person and remote learning.  This hybrid approach is necessitated by the fact that some students and/or faculty might be exempted from returning to campus and will also be prudent in the event that students or faculty test positive and need to be quarantined for a period of time. This approach could involve faculty recording lectures over the summer on Zoom or Echo360 and posting them in Kodiak as the need arises. It could also involve ensuring that fall in-person lectures are being recorded as faculty deliver them so they can be posted in Kodiak as students need them.  Another option would be for faculty to conduct their classes synchronously via Zoom, whether wholly or in part.

Of course, the worst-case scenario is that a second wave or spike in the pandemic requires that the campus be closed, requiring a complete conversion to online course delivery. In short, faculty must be prepared to teach their courses in both on-ground and online modalities to prepare for all scenarios.

Extensive work has already taken place to assess our on-campus classroom space availability. Based on a detailed preliminary analysis, Western New England University has an advantage in that most of our courses can be offered on campus while also meeting public health distancing guidelines. In other words, teaching spaces are being identified that are large enough to accommodate all students enrolled in a course while still observing physical distancing between students and their instructor. We now need to move into the next phase of our planning so we can finalize the fall schedule for the benefit of our faculty and students. Professor Kenneth Lee, who has been instrumental in conducting the initial classroom evaluation in his role as the head of the Adapted Teaching and Learning Environment Work SubGroup, is now working with Deans and Department Chairs directly to seek feedback on the classroom analysis and finalize the schedules as quickly as we can reasonably do so. In most situations, currently scheduled class times will remain the same, but locations will likely have to change. In a small number of other cases, classroom capacity will be constrained such that they will not be able to accommodate the number of students enrolled in classes assigned to those classrooms. In these situations, instructors may split their class such that half the students physically attend class on day 1 while the other half attends class virtually and synchronously via Zoom. On day 2 the students switch places, and so on. These decisions will be made in concert with the academic administration and course instructors, so we need this work to happen right away.

Acquiring skills to deliver courses in the hybrid environment

In order to assist faculty in gaining the appropriate and necessary skills to deliver their courses online whether in full or in part, OIT/Educational Technology is sponsoring a summer-long series of workshops on the utilization of Kodiak, the University’s virtual classroom platform, including sessions on building content; posting announcements, assignments, and grades; leading/facilitating discussions; and administering quizzes and exams.  In addition, there are workshops scheduled on creating instructional videos and hosting online class sessions via Zoom.  As a complement to the OIT/Ed Tech program, the Center for Teaching and Learning is sponsoring a series of faculty-led workshops on the practice of teaching, consisting of theme-based topics.  Every faculty member is urged to take advantage of these technology training- and-support opportunities this summer, so that as a University we will be optimally prepared to meet the contingencies as they arise.  For more information on these training opportunities, please visit our “Summer 2020 Workshops” webpage.

Process to submit requests for accommodation

Faculty and staff who feel that returning to the classroom will present a health risk due to CDC-listed medical conditions or being 65 years of age or older, can submit a request for accommodation. Faculty/staff should submit their requests for accommodation via this form. Joanne Ollson, Assistant Vice President and Director of Human Resources (joanne.ollson@wne.edu) is available should you have any questions about the form or the process for applying for accommodation.  While employees may request an accommodation at any time under the law, we are requesting that you complete the above form as soon as possible in order for the applicable accommodation(s) to be evaluated and made. This process can take some time and involve third-party documentation. Timely completion of this process will benefit both the requester and our students, who are anxious to gain insight as to the full composition of their fall schedule.

Health and safety protocols to be implemented

Please be assured that the University continues to monitor emerging guidance on how to make your return to the classroom as safe as possible. These efforts absolutely include the requirement that all students wear University provided face masks, that faculty are provided with both face masks and face shields, and that plexiglass shields will be installed as an added protective measure, prioritizing classrooms and office spaces where social distancing is challenging.  As stated above, classes will be reassigned as necessary into new spaces so as to ensure social distancing among the students and between students and faculty in class.  Hand sanitizers and wipes will be available at building and classroom entrances, and cleaning protocols are being developed to ensure that classrooms are sanitized between classes.  While the guidance on air circulation continues to evolve, we will ensure that windows can be opened where this is possible and that air circulation meets CDC, ASHRAE, and OSHA guidance, including installing new types of air filters and changing circulation blowers as needed.  Additionally, floor and directional signage will indicate one-way traffic flowing up and down stairwells, as well as social distancing requirements where lines might form.  Facilities, as well as our health and safety staff, are already well advanced in this planning.  Please don’t be reluctant to contact Dr. Dick Wagner (richard.wagner@wne.edu), who chairs the University’s Emergency Management Response Team (EMRT), if you have questions or concerns about various safety measures already in place or under development.

The University intends to test all students for COVID-19 upon their return to campus, and refer for testing those faculty and staff who are known to be exposed to COVID-19 and/or who present symptoms.

Living and working in the pandemic era is difficult. We know this has not been easy on the members of our community, and now we are asking for yet even more flexibility. Given the unknowns that we are facing, we must build flexibility into our planning and even then realize that it is likely that additional adjustments will have to be made. None of this is easy. We must all work together now and through the summer to prepare ourselves individually and collectively for the best possible outcomes for our students and each other this fall.

We thank you so much for your understanding, cooperation, and efforts to secure the sustainability of our University.