College Presidents to Meet With Mass. Officials Over Reopening

A group of college presidents from around the state, who put together a framework for reopening, are meeting with state officials Thursday

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Presidents of colleges and universities from across the state, who put together a framework for reopening amid the coronavirus crisis for the fall semester, are meeting with state officials Thursday.

Two dozen college presidents unveiled the road map last week suggesting how colleges and universities can welcome students back to in-person instruction this fall. Three members of the working group are meeting with the Massachusetts High Technology Council for a panel discussion Thursday morning.

Panelists include Wellesley College President Dr. Paula Johnson, Boston University President Robert Brown and Worcester Polytechnic Institute President Laurie Leshin. Leshin serves on Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening advisory board, and Johnson, a cardiologist, is leading an effort to develop COVID-19 testing protocols for higher education institutions

Their framework takes cues from Baker's four-phased reopening plan, with access to coronavirus testing emphasized as a critical piece of how college and universities repopulate campuses in Massachusetts. The report said schools must also develop protocols on contact tracing, quarantining and isolation.

When students return to college, campus will look a lot different.

The group's report described "flexible strategies" for moving students back into dorms in Phase 3, including lowering occupancy and organizing students into "households." To otherwise allow for distancing, it suggests moving smaller classes to larger spaces, using shifts or to-go meals in dining halls, and a mix of in-person and remote learning.

The recommendations are intended to be used as a basis for institution-specific plans. Baker's plan calls for higher education institutions to each craft their own individual reopening plans.

Some schools have said they’re preparing for in-person classes. At Harvard, six graduate schools decided to continue with online learning in anticipation of continued disruptions from the coronavirus crisis.

Most colleges are expected to release their plans for fall around the first of July. 

Mass Gov. Baker will announce more details on phase two reopening on Saturday.

Massachusetts is in the first phase of it reopening process, in which colleges and universities are allowed to bring staff back to research laboratories and clinics.

In Phase 2, the presidents envision on-campus student programming resuming "on a small scale," with social distancing and masks.

Phase 3 would allow for "careful, larger-scale re-population of campuses...possibly in conjunction with the start of the new academic year," but only if public health metrics used to measure the scope of the pandemic continue to trend in a positive direction and sufficient tests and protective equipment are available.

Phase 4 would see a "new normal" of campus life, the presidents say. This hinges on widespread availability of a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, or herd immunity being achieved.

State House News Service
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