As Fall Semester Nears, Debate Over College Reopening Continues

Many schools are still deciding whether to hold in-person classes when they reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic

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The return to college this fall will come with fewer moving trucks and more restrictions for students in Boston.

"I'm pretty excited for it," said Reid Eckhart, a senior at Boston University.

Once his school announced it would allow students to choose between in-person or remote learning, Eckhart and his roommates decided to return to the city to finish college on campus.

"I wouldn't say I'm too scared," he explained. "I would say their testing protocol, testing us two days a week, is pretty thorough. And I don't really see a problem."

But as colleges and universities work to find a way to bring students back safely, they are facing growing concern around the country as cases of COVID-19 spike in other states.

"There is a lot of apprehension," said Max Page, vice president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Formerly a professor of architecture at UMass Amherst, Page has found recent furloughs and layoffs within the public university system to be problematic.

"There has to be some very strict protocols and that requires a lot of people to implement those — testing, contact tracing," he said.

Many schools have released plans for reopening that require weekly testing, masks in classrooms and limited social engagement on campus.

Harvard and MIT have already announced a limited amount of students will be allowed to return, while Berklee College of Music has opted to remain entirely online for fall.

"You can build in layers of safety," said Dr. Ashish Jha of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Especially when it comes to young children, Jha has stressed how critical it is for schools to be mindful of COVID-19 data in their communities and implement proper safety measures.

"Imagine if you open up without building in safety precautions, and then you get a large outbreak," he said. "You are going to have completely destroyed the ability of that school to open up anytime soon because people are so incredibly gun-shy about opening up a school where there has been a large outbreak."

But as of now, colleges and universities around Boston are largely hoping for a safe reopening, even if it means fewer students.

"I'm going in optimistic, but I wouldn't be surprised if something happens," said Eckhart.

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