BOONE — Students began moving into Appalachian State dorms on Aug. 10, and fall classes begin Aug. 17. The university on Aug. 1 announced a new “Student Life” webpage outlining what campus life will “be like in fall 2020 and beyond.”
“The Appalachian experience will be different in many ways this fall than in years past due to COVID-19, yet students can still expect the caring approach to their growth and development App State has long been known for,” the webpage, part of the university’s recovery website, states. “You also will be called upon to be responsible community members who value the safety and wellbeing of others and demonstrate this in all your actions.”
After moving all instruction online and closing many campus facilities halfway through the spring semester and throughout the summer due to COVID-19, Appalachian and other public University of North Carolina system universities are set to return to at least partial in-person instruction this fall.
The reopening of campuses comes as the state has reported its highest numbers of new cases over the past month, peaking at 2,481 new cases reported on July 18. But on Aug. 5, Gov. Roy Cooper and health secretary Mandy Cohen said they believe the state’s COVID-19 metrics are beginning to stabilize.
With 293 total COVID-19 cases among county residents as of Aug. 5, Watauga’s numbers were lower per capita than many other counties in the state, with 52.2 cases per 10,000 residents (Duplin County had the state’s highest per-capita rate of cases, with 333.8 cases per 10,000 residents as of Aug. 5, according to the Raleigh News & Observer).
But 18- to 24-year-olds account for more than a third (36 percent) of Watauga’s cases, and faculty at Appalachian have expressed concerns for weeks about the increased potential for exposure when thousands of students return to campus from other areas. On Aug. 10, a class-action lawsuit was filed in Wake County by UNC system faculty and staff, aimed at forcing the UNC system to delay in-person classes this fall.
University leaders have said they have carefully considered the potential impacts of reopening the campus along with the “detrimental economic and emotional impacts” that moving to all online instruction could have on students, employees and citizens of the region.
New first-year and transfer students are moving into App State residence halls between Aug. 10 and Aug. 13, with returning students moving in between Aug. 14 and 16.
In a July 2 letter to faculty, Chancellor Sheri Everts and Interim Provost Heather Norris indicated that “entry testing” for all returning students, faculty and staff was not being recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
According to the CDC’s Interim Considerations for Institutions of Higher Education Administrators for SARS-CoV-2 Testing, which was updated June 30, “Testing of all students, faculty and staff for COVID-19 before allowing campus entry (entry testing) has not been systematically studied. It is unknown if entry testing in (institutions of higher education) provides any additional reduction in person-to-person transmission of the virus beyond what would be expected with implementation of other infection preventive measures. Therefore, CDC does not recommend entry testing of all returning students, faculty and staff.
“However,” the CDC added, “some IHEs are planning to adopt and implement this testing approach.”
According to University Housing, residents and families moving in will be required to wear face coverings throughout the move-in process, and face coverings will be provided to students as part of their move-in packet. Unlike previous move-in days, no volunteers will be available to help with move-in this year, and students are limited to one family member or move-in helper inside the residence hall, the office noted.
Two of the four new residence halls being constructed near the stadium will open this fall — Thunder Hill and Raven Rocks.
Asked if residence halls will be at full capacity, Appalachian State spokesperson Megan Hayes said, “We have increased single-room capacity in order to accommodate students with health conditions.”
Hayes also noted that students will be required to wear masks in hallways and common areas, and only residents will be allowed inside their residence halls after move-in.
A year ago, App State announced its intention to increase enrollment from its fall 2019 count of 19,280 to 20,000 in fall 2020, and as of April, university leaders said the institution was on target to meet that goal.
But speaking Aug. 5, Hayes said, “Our enrollment models show strong progress toward our goals, but nationwide, colleges and universities are facing uncertainty, and we are no exception. There is no enrollment model that we feel accurately reflects the effects of a global pandemic.”
In a summer-long calling campaign, the university reached out to every new and returning student to offer support and answer questions, Hayes said, and of more than 7,100 students reached, 92 percent indicated they planned to enroll for the fall 2020 semester, Hayes said. Final fall enrollment numbers are reported in early September.
Appalachian has scheduled a variety of course types “to allow greater physical distancing in classrooms and flexibility for faculty and student needs.” They include:
• face-to-face courses held in classrooms arranged to provide six feet of physical distancing;
• hybrid, which has both online and face-to-face components, including rotating student groups, synchronous broadcast and HyFlex, in which students have multiple options to achieve course goals; and
• online courses (synchronous or asynchronous), in which students will participate from their residences or other designated learning areas across campus set up for physical distancing.
Hayes said that currently, the fall schedule consists of 30 percent face-to-face classes, 30 percent hybrid classes and 40 percent remote/online classes.
Hayes said that department chairs and deans began working with faculty in March to assess and meet course delivery preferences for fall, and that faculty have been offered opportunities to reassess and update their requests.
“All schedules submitted to Academic Affairs in late June were approved, and we are still working to assist faculty who are requesting adjustments in response to the recent changes with Watauga County Schools,” Hayes said, referring to the public school system’s decision to delay its hybrid in-person and remote learning plan by nine weeks, beginning the school year completely online.
Asked if any faculty member who had requested to teach online-only had instead been required to teach a hybrid or face-to-face course, Hayes said, “I don’t have documentation of each chair’s process, but since March, we have been working to meet faculty teaching preferences and continue to do so.”
Tuition and fees are charged at the beginning of the semester and will remain in place regardless of changes in instructional format, Hayes said. The university’s recovery website indicates that regardless of delivery method, campus services such as tutoring, advising, the writing center, peer academic coaching, counseling, student health services and more will be available to students — in a remote format when necessary.
“Tuition and fees directly impact our ability to provide meaningful educational programs, experiences and services,” Hayes said.
The university’s recovery website states that “the UNC system has shared that in the event institutions are able to offer financial relief to students — in the form of refunds or other measures — they would certainly like to do so. This will be a system decision and we await further guidance.”
Seth Kimpler, a senior at Appalachian State, started a petition via the change.org website calling on the university to reduce tuition and fee rates for the 2020-21 academic year. The petition had 190 signatures as of Aug. 11.
“With enrollment for the school being down this year, and many services/activities such as gyms, computer labs and sports being closed and/or canceled, the school is passing off the financial implications onto students by still charging full tuition and fees despite offering an obviously sub-par product expected of a school of this size,” Kimpler said. “Because of this, I have created a petition directed at Chancellor Sheri Everts and the Appalachian Board of (Trustees) asking that they lower the tuition/fees for this academic year to account for the services/activities that we the students will be paying for but unable to utilize.”
Face coverings are required to be worn by students, faculty and staff on campus, except when alone in private spaces.
“We are relying on members of our community to adhere to these standards, but when necessary, we also will enforce these behaviors,” Appalachian’s recovery website states. “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 our policies regarding employee performance and behaviors in the workplace.”
Students, as well as faculty and staff, will be expected to self-administer daily health checks for COVID-19 symptoms using an online tool.
Dining halls will have modified hours and new practices for safe-serving, physical distancing and more frequent and enhanced cleaning. Students will follow designated paths to serving stations and limited seating areas, and face coverings are required in all dining halls and retail locations, except when eating or drinking. Mobile ordering through the Grubhub app and self-pick-up will help provide a contact-free option.
For more information about the fall semester at Appalachian, visit appstate.edu/recovery.