BOONE — The Appalachian State fall semester will be a bit different when students return to their classrooms Aug. 17.
Instead of a fall break, students will not come back after Thanksgiving break, and Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 will replace the two original fall break days. Exams will be held online with the exception of courses that require clinical or lab-based assessments.
“This plan will allow for the greatest number of our students to remain home for an extended period of time before the spring semester begins in January,” Chancellor Sheri Everts said in an email to students. “I would like to extend my thanks to the faculty, staff and students who make up the Academic Calendar Committee for the work they did to recommend this change.”
Appalachian State spokesperson Megan Hayes said the calendar committee, made up of faculty, staff and students, considered many alternatives in recommending a calendar for the fall semester.
“In response to COVID-19, the committee looked at ways to limit the amount of travel back and forth from Boone to other areas, in an effort to help reduce transmission of the virus during a time at which flu and other respiratory-borne illness become more prevalent,” Hayes said. “Since this year’s calendar would have only two days of classes meeting after Thanksgiving break, it was a logical choice to make the decision to hold those classes earlier in the semester, allowing for an earlier end to the class schedule with minimal impact to the fall calendar.”
The plan is almost identical to UNC-Greensboro and North Carolina A&T’s schedules. Other colleges across the country also have similar plans, including the University of South Carolina and Rice University.
Interim UNC system President Bill Roper, who was director of the Centers for Disease Control from 1990-93, acknowledged the fall semester plans at a UNC system Board of Governors meeting May 20.
“We are optimistic, leaning in and expecting our students, faculty and staff to return to classrooms, labs and libraries this fall,” Roper said. “Crucially, our planning is focused on ensuring that appropriate safeguards for health and safety will be in place.”
He also said the system will be ready “for any set of circumstances that may prevail” and are working through a series of possible scenarios for operations for the fall 2020 term.
Everts also mentioned key safety measures that will be in place at Appalachian:
- Establishing a clear guidance on safety measures that must be taken in order to be on campus, including wearing face coverings, washing hands often and maintaining safe physical distance. The university will facilitate this by providing face coverings, adjusting classroom and work spaces and adding hand sanitizing stations across campus.
- Working with state and local public health officials to develop and communicate clear and concise public health and safety awareness information that will be visibly displayed in every building and every classroom on campus.
- Decisions will be informed by the CDC and public health data and guidance, as well as by state and local government decisions. “We will continue engaging faculty, staff and students in our future planning.”
“As a campus, we are becoming more flexible and adaptive to an environment that is subject to rapid social, political, economic and technological changes. We are doing so because we must — and our ability to do so makes us a stronger community,” Everts said.
In preparation for fall classes, “Teams across campus are engaged in planning for returning to classrooms and labs, and resuming daily operations,” according to the App State recovery planning website. More than a dozen campus teams are providing recommendations to the Chancellor’s Cabinet and other emergency management and project management leaders on campus, including groups focused on academic delivery, AppalCART, campus services, communications, student engagement, donor engagement, health and wellness services, isolation/quarantine plans, on-campus residents, operations planning, space management, student facilities, health education and student programs.
The fall 2020 plan comes as colleges across the globe are exploring options to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 on their campuses.
A study from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota describes three potential shapes the pandemic could take in the coming months:
- Scenario 1: After the current wave of cases there would be a series of smaller waves that repeat in the summer and then consistently over a one- to two-year period — gradually diminishing in 2021.
- Scenario 2: The current wave is followed by a larger wave in the fall or winter of 2020 with smaller subsequent waves in 2021. This would follow a similar pattern seen with the 1918-19 flu pandemic.
- Scenario 3: The current wave is not followed by a large peak but rather a “slow burn” of cases with no clear pattern.