University announces reopening plans for fall semester, classes mostly online, students with option to return to campus

University announces reopening plans for fall semester, classes mostly online, students with option to return to campus

Most classes will be online for the fall 2020 semester, announced President Ron Liebowitz in a June 30 email outlining Brandeis’ plan for the 2020-2021 academic year. Students will be allowed to live on campus, with the opportunity to complete coursework remotely. Everyone on the Brandeis campus will be required to wear masks indoors and outdoors. The announcement comes after the university’s COVID-19 task force released its June suggestions for Brandeis to hold a mixture of online and in-person courses in the fall. 

The Brandeis Hoot will be interviewing members of the administration in the coming weeks for more information about plans for the fall.

Academics

The fall semester will start on Wednesday, Aug. 26, a week earlier than previously announced, and classes will conclude on Thursday, Dec. 3, according to the university’s website. Students will be given an extended Thanksgiving break (Monday, Nov. 23 through Friday, Nov. 27) and will complete the rest of the semester online after that break. The last week of instruction, study days and final exams will all be conducted remotely. 

The university will finalize dates for the spring 2021 semester during the fall semester. The tentative plan is to start the semester a week later during the last week of January and eliminate February break to limit travel. The task force announced these changes in an earlier June email from Provost Lisa Lynch.

Most classes will meet twice a week for 90 minutes, on Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, with 30 minutes between classes for on-campus classroom cleaning. Fridays will be reserved for three-hour class blocks, advanced labs and project labs, recitations, speakers, faculty meetings and special events, according to the website

Classes with more than 28 students will be held online-only. In-person classes are limited to 29 people, including instructors and teaching assistants. The university is following guidelines set by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as well as the American College Health Association that recommends reducing class capacity by 75 percent. Spaces not typically used as classrooms, including Hassenfeld Conference Center, International Lounge, Levin Ballroom, chapels and Gosman Sports and Convocation Center will be used as additional spaces for classes, according to the website. Starting July 6, the registrar’s office will be updating Sage to reflect the changes in course times, according to an email sent by Dan Kim, vice president of marketing, communications and external relations.

All introductory lab courses will be held online and other lab courses may be offered in person or online. The science-lab faculty are re-examining lab courses while trying to keep students in science courses on track for their majors, according to the Frequently Asked Questions section. Art faculty are also considering both in-person and remote learning. Students with disabilities can request accommodations that include online learning if their disability would affect their ability to engage in in-person classes.

Classrooms will be deep cleaned and disinfected twice a day, opposed to once a day before COVID-19. Time between classes will now be 30 minutes to allow students and faculty to wipe down work spaces before and after classes. Seating locations will be marked to ensure distances of six feet between students. A “teaching zone” will be marked at the front of the classroom to allow faculty to move around while maintaining a safe distance from the closest students. Departments will also provide faculty members with their own supply of chalk or whiteboard markers and erasers to reduce the need for communal equipment. For the fall semester, only classrooms that are of sufficient size to ensure physical distancing will be used.

Faculty have also been asked to assign seats during the first class and maintain the same seat throughout the semester. All faculty will also be expected to take attendance regularly and maintain an accurate attendance log to assist with contact tracing, if necessary.

Courses at Brandeis International Business School and the Heller School for Social Policy and Management will all be taught online. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will offer a combination of online and in-person activities. More information on each specific graduate school is available here.

Quarantine and Self-Isolation

Members of the Brandeis community that test positive for COVID-19 or who are in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 while test results are pending, or until the 14-day quarantine period is complete must self-isolate, according to a report about plans for fall 2020. The university is following the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommended recovery strategy, which details that recovery status is assigned when: “(1) the individual remains fever-free without the use of fever reducers for 72 hours, (2) symptoms have improved, and (3) it has been at least 10 days since their symptoms first appeared,” according to the report. It is unclear if students in recovery status must continue to self-isolate.

Individuals that are asymptomatic for COVID-19 but test positive can be cleared to return 10 days after testing positive— as long as they do not develop symptoms. 

Specific rooms in residential areas will be set aside to isolate students who have tested positive for COVID-19 during the school year. Students who reside on campus and have not tested positive for COVID-19 but have been identified as being in close contact with someone who has tested positive will be required to self-quarantine in their own room. During self-quarantine, students will stay in their current bedroom and will not be allowed to leave except to use the bathroom or in health emergencies, according to the report. The university will provide medical care, deliver meals and provide any other assistance necessary.

Students that live off campus and test positive for COVID-19 will also be required to self-isolate. The university will provide instructions on the most safe and effective way to do so, according to the report

The administration is in contact with local hotels to potentially arrange for students to live in empty rooms if there is a shortage of housing. Brandeis may also use local hotels to quarantine infected students, Liebowitz said in a community town hall on May 14. 

Health Measures

Students living in a residence hall during the school year will be tested upon their arrival on campus, and students living off-campus will be tested at a designated time before the start of the semester, according to the university website. Frequent and mandatory testing will be conducted each month for students, faculty and staff who live on campus or come to campus several times a week. People that come to campus less will be tested less. Students engaging in remote learning only or faculty and staff conducting all their work remotely will not be given regular testing. More information on the amount of testing students, staff and faculty will receive will become available in the next several weeks.

Along with frequent testing, the university will be implementing contract tracing measures to track the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Any member of the Brandeis community that tests positive will have contact tracing. Individuals who test positive or report symptoms and all their immediate contacts will be interviewed within 24 hours. Any individuals identified as being in “close contact” with the individual that tests positive will be required to self-quarantine. Close contact is defined as “being close than six feet for longer than 15 minutes, regardless of whether a face covering was worn,” according to the university’s website. More information about contact tracing on campus will be available in early August. 

In the case of a potential campus outbreak, the university may transition into exclusively remote work. The decision to transition to remote work will depend on shelter-in-place advisories or restrictions that require remote-only operations, exceeding quarantine and self-isolation capacity for residential populations, a surge in cases or based on contact tracing analysis, according to the website. More information on quarantine and self-isolation capacity will be available in the coming weeks.

Brandeis will start to limit access to university buildings to only faculty, staff and students, according to a report detailing plans for the fall.

Cleaning Measures

The task-force had recommended that the university make adjustments to its campus in areas including attention to hygiene, practicing physical distancing, screening tests and mask usage for faculty, staff and students. 

Facilities staff will continue to clean and sanitize classrooms, common areas, residence halls and dining facilities daily, paying extra attention to surfaces that people touch, including door handles and tables. Facilities is also working to increase the amount of fresh air in campus rooms. High-traffic areas, including the library and Gosman Sports and Convocation Center, will install safety modifications—Plexiglas barriers or removal of furniture—to allow for proper social distancing measures. Outdoor furniture including picnic tables, tents and chairs will be added across campus to reduce capacity of indoor common spaces such as the library. 

“Individuals who fail or refuse to comply with the new health and safety policies will be subject to disciplinary action and may not be allowed to have access to campus until the threat of COVID-19 has passed,” reads the website

Anyone coming to campus or residing on campus will be required to complete a Daily Health Assessment, which sees how respondents are feeling and if they have any symptoms of COVID-19. Mandatory training on public health practices, campus safety policies and student expectations will be given to first-year students during orientation and distributed to returning students before their arrival on campus. 

Dining 

Both Sherman and Usdan dining halls will primarily rely on takeout food service, according to the Campus Health and Safety Measures page. Seating will still be available at both locations with significantly reduced capacity levels with table and floor markings to ensure six foot distances between students. Dining services and Sodexo are planning to expand hours of operation to accommodate more students over a longer period of time. Pre-ordering meals for pickup through a mobile application is also being developed to reduce contact and the number of students in one location. 

Residence Halls

All incoming first-year students will be housed in single rooms and returning students with housing contracts will be guaranteed housing. While most rooms will be used as singles, there will be limited double occupancy available but no triples. Some returning students with housing contracts may be offered alternative room assignments so all students can live in single rooms. Students with housing contracts can release themselves from their housing contract with no penalty by July 8 if they prefer alternative arrangements. First-year students that reside in the Greater Boston Area will be allowed to live at home during the fall semester and commute to campus for in-person classes. 

Physical distancing in residence halls will be facilitated through limiting gathering sizes and enforcement of guest policies. Gatherings in residence halls will be “limited based on room dimensions and state public health guidelines,” according to the Frequently Asked Questions. As of print time, no overnight guests are allowed in residence halls and gatherings cannot exceed 10 people. Cleaning materials, such as sanitizing wipes, will be made widely available in residence halls.

Move-in for returning students will be extended over a number of days to de-densify the process. Specific move-in dates will be announced in July. 

Travel

The university is continuing to encourage members of the Brandeis community to limit personal travel as much as possible. As of press time, anyone arriving from out-of-state who is not a local commuter is required to self-quarantine before coming onto campus. Brandeis has not specified how long that self-quarantine will be. Brandeis community members who are returning to campus after international travel must self-quarantine for 14 days. Individuals who need to self-quarantine must notify the university to receive health care monitoring and support. 

Students will also generally not be able to participate in university-sponsored travel outside of the greater Boston area for fall 2020, according to the report. Plans for spring 2021 will be finalized during the fall semester. All university-sponsored domestic and international travel is still prohibited without written approval from the provost. Study abroad and international student exchange programs are also suspended for fall 2020. Students will be notified during the fall semester about spring 2021 study abroad programs. 

Tuition 

There will be no increase in undergraduate or graduate tuition fees from the 2019-2020 academic year for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to an email sent out by Liebowitz. Students enrolled in lab or studio art classes will also not have to pay additional fees. Room and board fees, which include residential contracts and meal plans, will not increase—unlike previous years. 

There will be no reduction in tuition because of  the new, mixed mode of instruction—and no reduction if classes go completely online

“Despite the hardships imposed by the pandemic, we will continue to deliver high-quality academic programs and services that our students and their families expect, and our schools will continue to devote their resources to delivering excellence in course instruction, student services and extracurricular activities,” explains the Frequently Asked Questions website

The university also noted that the cost of running Brandeis has not decreased—another reason not to reduce tuition.  A refund for room and board charges will be given if students are required to leave campus. 

Returning students who have completed applications for need-based financial aid for the 2020-2021 academic year will receive their financial aid packages in mid-July. Additional financial aid funding has been set aside to meet the demonstrated financial aid of students, according to the report. Students and families whose financial situations may have recently changed due to COVID-19 should contact Student Financial Services so their financial aid packages can be reviewed and revised appropriately, according to the report.

Electronic bills for the semester will be available on Sage in late July with payment due Aug. 21. 

First-year and transfer students have until July 8 to request deferral for a semester or year. Current degree-seeking students have the ability to take a leave of absence through the Office of Academic Services and must complete the leave of absence request form by Aug. 1.

Athletics

Gosman Sports and Convocation Center will be open in the fall and open to the Brandeis community with new protocols to ensure safety. Fitness equipment will be spaced out and the equipment and surfaces will be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Competitive club sports and team-based intramurals have been suspended for the fall semester. The university is still working with other schools in the University Athletic Association (UAA), public health officials and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) about how and when varsity sports can return to practice and competition, according to a statement by Brandeis Athletics. Coaches will be in direct communication with their athletes as soon as any decisions are made. 

Members of the Brandeis community with additional questions can fill out this form. More information on the university’s plan for the 2020-2021 academic year can be found here.

This is a developing story and will be updated with more information as it comes available. 

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