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News
App State to require face coverings on campus

BOONE — Appalachian State University is requiring students, faculty and staff returning to campus to wear face coverings “to create the safest possible learning and working environment,” the university stated on June 19.

“Because COVID-19 is spread through droplets when an infected person speaks, coughs, or sneezes, one of the most important tools we have in this fight are face coverings,” stated the university.

App State will begin its fall semester on Aug. 17. In situations where at least six feet of physical distance cannot be maintained or guaranteed — such as hallways, restrooms or multi-person work stations — on-campus staff, faculty and students are required to wear face coverings that cover the mouth and nose. The university stated it will provide all students, faculty and staff with three face coverings.

Everyone is required to carry a face covering at all times while on campus in case they encounter an unforeseen situation where at least six feet of physical distance cannot be maintained. Such situations are likely to occur in hallways, stairwells, elevators, restrooms and kitchens. Face coverings must be worn at all times, regardless of distancing, in classrooms and all instructional areas.

Wearing a face covering is not mandated when not in close contact with others — such as when working alone in a room or office — or when walking alone in an uncrowded outdoor location. Face coverings will also not be required to wear in private living spaces within residential halls, but the policy does apply to common areas such as lobbies. App State’s policy on face coverings can be found at policy.appstate.edu/Face_Coverings_in_Response_to_COVID-19.

“The global pandemic has forced all of us to adopt new patterns of behavior that are sometimes awkward and uncomfortable,” the university stated. “We need to work together to reinforce the importance of engaging in all of the behaviors we know prevent the spread of the virus — hand washing, staying home when ill, physical distancing, wearing face coverings and showing we care about each other by doing what is right to help fight COVID-19,” the university stated.

App State officials are relying on members of our community to adhere to these standards, but stated they will enforce these behaviors when necessary. This will include asking students who do not have a face covering to leave the classroom, campus building or other venue and only return when they have a face covering. Students who continue to violate this policy may be subject to further action per the Code of Student Conduct.

Similarly, employees who do not wear a face covering may be subject to disciplinary action based on policies regarding employee performance and behaviors in the workplace.

Students who seek an exception to this policy because they are unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition should contact the Office of Disability Resources by contacting (828) 262-3056 or odr@appstate.edu.

Employees with a similar request should complete the “High Risk Identification Form” at hr.appstate.edu/Highriskidentificationform. Accommodations may be made on a case by case basis to facilitate teaching and learning in specific environments.

“Wearing a face covering is an expression of care, an acknowledgment of community, and a vital part of our plan to make our university as safe as possible for everyone,” the university stated. “Thank you for helping keep our community as safe as possible by abiding by these guidelines.”

For more information, contact safety@appstate.edu.


News
Back 2 School Fest to be extended to two days in August; event needs to raise $40,000

BOONE — Organizers of the Back 2 School Festival have announced plans to extend the school supply event to two days and are making an urgent call for donations.

The 2020 Back 2 School Festival will be held on Friday, Aug. 7, and Saturday, Aug. 8, at Watauga High School.

“While we are still uncertain about how the children will learn, the Back 2 School Festival remains committed to making sure every Watauga County student returns for the 2020-2021 school year confident and prepared with the tools they need to succeed,” organizers stated.

“Watauga County Schools anticipates even greater need this year due to COVID-19” said festival President Kendra Sink. “Many parents have lost jobs or are working protracted hours while our economy continues to recover. A lot of families in our area may be facing challenges paying for food, housing and other necessities for the first time. And school supplies are a huge expense they may not be able to handle.”

The Back 2 School Festival’s fundraising efforts were halted earlier this year with the statewide stay-at-home order.

“We have seen some of our supporting partners remain open and furlough employees, while some have had to shut their doors for good,” organizers stated. “We are grieving with them. We know we are facing extraordinary circumstances this year, but by sharing the load among many, it lightens it for those who need help the most.”

Over the last seven years, hundreds of volunteers, the faith community and civic-minded businesses invested in the future of Watauga County by supporting the Back 2 School Festival. Thanks to these efforts, children who otherwise would not have the supplies they need are arriving at school ready and prepared to learn.

Festival organizers say that $40,000 is needed this year to meet the needs of students, supplying them with school supplies, backpacks and shoes for a fresh start to the school year.

“You can make a difference by sponsoring, donating or volunteering your time,” organizers stated.

Visit Back2SchoolFestival.org to make your contribution or to learn more about opportunities to help. You may also mail a check to Back 2 School Festival at PO Box 102, Boone, NC 28607. All donations go directly toward the purchase of supplies and materials to benefit students.

In the past, businesses, churches, individuals and civic groups have sponsored the festival at various levels, which ranged between $250 and $5,000.

“We expect this year’s festival will look different from past years, but while we’re still working behind the scenes to determine exactly what the festival will look like, our goal remains the same: every child deserves to start school confident and prepared. No contribution is too small. With your help, we can build a better future for all of us, one student at a time,” the organizers stated.

Follow the festival organization on Facebook at Facebook.com/Back2SchoolFestival or at www.back2schoolfestival.org to find updated information about this year’s Back 2 School Festival.


Local
Blowing Rock Council to discuss mask requirement June 24

BLOWING ROCK — The Blowing Rock Town Council announced on June 22 that it will hold a special town council meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24, to discuss COVID-19-related issues.

According to a release detailing the meeting, discussions will include “possible restrictions and requirements for face coverings to be worn within the town of Blowing Rock.”

While the meeting will take place at Town Hall in Blowing Rock, due to COVID-19, public access to the building is restricted. Community members can access the meeting live through the town’s website at http://www.townofblowingrocknc.gov/meetings.

Residents who would like to submit a comment to be read during the meeting should email clerk@townofblowingrock.gov or drop a physical copy off at Town Hall, located at 1036 Main St. in Blowing Rock, either in its utility drop box or inside.

Public comments to be read during the meeting are due no later than 4 p.m. on June 24.


Covid19
App State faculty question plans for in-person instruction this fall

BOONE — Appalachian State administrators outlined decisions about the fall 2020 semester and fielded questions during a special June 22 meeting of the Faculty Senate.

Faculty heard from Interim Provost Heather Norris, Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management Director Jason Marshburn and Graduate Studies Dean Mike McKenzie (also recently appointed as vice provost of academic program development and strategic initiatives).

For the next few hours after information was presented to the group, faculty had various questions about the operations of the fall semester.

Some would say that the COVID-19 pandemic has created some of the “hardest times higher education have ever faced,” Norris said. She added that like many campuses across the nation, App State officials don’t yet have all of the answers for fall 2020.

Marshburn explained that planning for the fall semester has been led by the Chancellor’s Recovery Strategy Leadership Team, the Project Management and Implementation Team and the Emergency Management Task Force. Marshburn’s office plans to conduct weekly meetings with department representatives to share information about available resources and to help address any questions or concerns.

McKenzie is part of the Project Management and Implementation Team, and said the group committee is basing its recommendations on guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of North Carolina system. Norris said the group has worked to gather feedback from various stakeholders across campus, including faculty, staff and students.

The university plans to begin the fall semester on Aug. 17, with no fall break and final exams to be administered online. University officials have identified 53 alternative classroom spaces — such as the Plemmons Student Union and Legends — across campus to allow for social distancing, as classrooms will only be allowed to accommodate for 50 percent capacity, Norris said.

Work is ongoing to identify different modes of course delivery — including face-to-face, hybrid (both face-to-face and online), high-flex (which allows for flexibility in rotating who is in the classroom) and strictly online. Norris added that current technology capabilities for existing classrooms and new alternative classrooms have been identified, which led to an order of an additional 300 camera and microphone systems, 35 projectors and 85 OWL cameras.

App State will be implementing cleaning and disinfecting protocols with the help of 50 additional temporary custodial staff who will clean classrooms multiple times a day. Custodial staff will also be in charge of restocking hospital grade disinfectant, paper towels and refillable hand sanitizer dispensers, according to Norris. Additionally, 300 sanitizing stations will be installed at primary entrances and exits of academic buildings and high-traffic areas. McKenzie said his committee is waiting for further federal and state guidance when it comes to topics such as elevator usage.

According to Norris, university officials were working on optimizing the current heating and air systems in buildings to create fresh air exchange. This is in addition to the mandate to wear masks when on campus, and the creation of signage to direct traffic flow in buildings. To date, the Campus Emergency Operations Center has distributed 16,811 units of supplies to the university community — most of which has been face masks or face coverings, according to Marshburn.

To ensure students are aware of community expectations for the fall, Norris said officials in Academic Affairs and Student Affairs are developing a “welcome week” which would consist of students in small groups that are spaced out as much as possible.

Faculty Senator Matt Robinson — a criminal justice professor — said that the reality of a student’s social life off campus makes on-campus policies, such as wearing masks, irrelevant. Robinson said a student of his recently sent him a video of students interacting off campus who were not social distancing.

“If that’s going to come back to campus, then it doesn’t really matter what happens on campus,” Robinson said.

The university is procuring a screening application that would allow all faculty, staff and students to complete a screen each day prior to coming to campus. Testing, contract tracing and quarantine protocols would all be done in accordance with local public health officials, Norris said.

The Faculty Senate also heard from Clint Coffey, the chair-elect of Staff Senate, who said he was primarily concerned about open and frequent communication from the university as well as receiving clear guidelines. Coffey said Staff Senate really wanted to see some sort of framework for returning to work that ensures safety for staff.

Both Norris and McKenzie said the university is in the process of finalizing the scheduling for the fall semester to allow students and faculty to request accommodations. Several faculty inquired whether or not they would be “forced” to teach face-to-face in the fall. Several noted caring for elderly parents or being at risk themselves if they were to contract the COVID-19 virus. Norris said the university has “obligations” to provide face-to-face instruction, but the university wants to give faculty the opportunity to request accommodations.

According to the university, accommodations may be made on a case-by-case basis to facilitate teaching and learning in specific environments. To submit a request, visit hr.appstate.edu/Highriskidentificationform.

“We want to work with you. We want to do whatever we can to accommodate your needs,” Norris said. “But we do have to be face to face this fall in some form or fashion.”

Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent said he thinks faculty are having to bargain between their health and their jobs. He asked Norris if faculty who request to teach online could still be asked to teach face to face. Norris said that it would be a conversation that would be had between department chairs and deans. She said based on earlier indications from faculty several months ago, 70 percent of faculty at that time stated they wanted to teach in person.

“My hope is that we’ve provided you with enough help and safety information, and to be able to make accommodations for you, that face to face would be something that most faculty would be comfortable (in doing),” Norris said.

Other concerns faculty had were about topics such as allowing time between classes for students who then have to find a place to have an online class; the worry of the Human Resources form not being secure enough; and enforcement mechanisms for policies such as wearing face coverings on campus.

The Faculty Senate passed a resolution requesting that the university's administrators implement certain practices. These include not requiring any instructor to teach in-person if they have any concerns for their personal health related to COVID-19 during the Fall 2020 semester; not requiring any instructor to disclose the nature of their personal health concerns if they request to teach online; allowing instructors the option to switch to fully online at any point in the semester if personal health concerns emerge related to COVID-19; and that there not be a penalty for faculty who follow these principles. 

For more information on how Appalachian State University is planning to return to campus, visit www.appstate.edu/recovery.