SUNY Oswego will resume classes with precautions in place

Sheldon Hall exterior in evening.

OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego had to get creative and rethink how things are done in planning for the fall semester, college officials told The Palladium-Times.

The college’s re-opening plan, named Oswego Forward, is a document of more than 70 pages that details measures taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus during the college’s restart. Protocols include students quarantining before coming to campus, the implementation of Pod living and a shift in the fall schedule, as well as a blend of online, face-to-face and hybrid learning models when classes begin Aug. 24.

College officials have been working throughout the summer to find a balance of providing a traditional college experience while still maintaining everyone’s health and safety.

“While we are still in the COVID-19 public health emergency, we recognize a true college experience on campus relies on the ability for our students to engage with faculty and staff, socialize with peers and have opportunities outside the classroom,” Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Jerri Howland said. “The student life experiences are vital to the campus experience so our goal, in light of the pandemic, is to create ways these experiences can still happen while maintaining our commitment to health and safety.”

Students and employees must complete an online health-screening questionnaire and must quarantine at home seven days prior to arriving on campus. Each day a student or employee intends on coming to campus, any student or employee must complete a daily screening and follow all social distancing guidelines.

Anyone who screens positive or shows symptoms must test negative for COVID-19 before returning to campus, officials said.

Approximately one-third of all classes will be face-to-face, another one-third will be entirely online and the final one-third will be a hybrid of both styles, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Scott Furlong said.

“Limiting our face-to-face classes in this way will have a positive effect on reducing classroom density,” Furlong said. “As a result of these modalities, we will free up additional classrooms, provide more flexibility and reduce population density in our building hallways, stairways, etc. This will facilitate our efforts to social distance.”

The fall semester is scheduled to end Dec. 11, but all face-to-face delivery will be completed by Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. Final exams will occur remotely unless an in-person assessment is needed, which would happen the week of Nov. 23.

Beginning in mid-August, SUNY Oswego will bring up to 3,600 students to live on campus, including 1,950 first-year and 1,650 returning students. They will be introduced to their “Pod,” a social quarantine bubble of up to 10 people with whom they can do activities.

“In Pods, students are allowed to socialize with one another without regard to social distancing — but outside the Pod, students must follow the recommended social distancing rules,” Howland said. “Living in residential housing, Pods function like a family or a unit that protects their family members and home, and whose members take the necessary steps to protect the health of each other.”

Other protocols from the Oswego Forward plan include enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, restricting non-essential gatherings and activities, and accommodations for vulnerable populations, as well as contingency plans if there is another shutdown needed like last spring.

For SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley, the priority has to be put on the health and safety of all members of the campus community.

“While many of the guidelines, protocols and initiatives that the plan calls for impact the typical college experience and what students, faculty and staff would normally expect and desire, we must all commit to taking care of ourselves and, through our own considerate actions, help to safeguard the health and safety of all on our campus and in our community,” Stanley said. “If together we can prevent or keep extremely low any community spread of COVID-19, we will be successful as the semester progresses.”

The Oswego Forward plan has been months in the making.

SUNY Oswego’s COVID-19 Task Force has been meeting weekly since mid-March. The committee brings together campus constituents from all aspects of the college to examine and discuss prevention, response and contingency plans to build on the school’s pre-existing pandemic response plan and infectious disease protocol.

The college’s Fall 2020 Academic Planning Committee has been meeting since early April to imagine and design academic plans that could be deployed depending on the status of the pandemic’s impact on SUNY Oswego and the surrounding community.

Stanley also charged members of the President’s Council to form a Health and Safety Group in early May to oversee the key areas that affect students and employees’ health and safety.

The current plan was submitted in June and approved by SUNY officials on July 1, but it isn’t set in stone. On Wednesday, college officials released an update to the residence hall agreement, saying that students must remain on campus to the fullest extent possible, anyone who travels out of the central New York area will need to complete a travel form and comply with any New York state quarantine requirements, and no large group gatherings of more than 25 students are allowed.

Updates will be made when new information, guidance and/or direction is received from the state of New York or the Governor’s Office, Chief Communication Officer Wayne Westervelt said.

“The Oswego Forward plan will remain a living, fluid document as we intend for it to be responsive to a rapidly changing environment, consistent with our core principles,” Stanley said. “The vice presidents will work closely with me, our leadership team, and their respective division’s deans and/or directors, and other direct reports to enact all protocols, policies and procedures needed to protect the SUNY Oswego community.”

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