MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The University of Minnesota could reopen its classrooms, laboratories and dormitories this summer with social distancing guidelines in place, according to a proposal that the school’s Board of Regents is expected to vote on in July.
Regents were presented with the plan by university officials on Thursday. Under the proposal, university President Joan Gabel indicated that the reopening plan would be offered in addition to a "robust" collection of online classes. The plan offers flexibility for faculty members and students, who were sent home in March when the university shifted to a remote learning format because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The plan recommends that in-person instruction would begin in July and would end before Thanksgiving and indicates the university plans to provide masks for students and faculty members who request them.
The plan would also provide for coronavirus monitoring, testing and isolation as a way of dealing with the ongoing pandemic. The proposal also gives instructors the right to determine if classes would be held in-person or remotely based on where social distancing guidelines are by the fall.
Social distancing guidelines would be adhered to by specially-designed accommodations in classrooms, dining facilities and other gathering spaces and students at the university’s five campuses would have access to multimodal classes if normal learning spaces and lecture halls are not conducive to social distancing.
Face-coverings for students and faculty members would be recommended, but not required by the university. An university committee has been working since April to consider what a return to in-person instruction might look like.
“We believe that we are as safe as any place to be able to protect the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Gabel told Regents on Thursday, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “It is our number one priority, and we are prepared with extensive planning to be able to do so.”
School officials told Regents that the university has ample space to provide for isolation for students who contracts the virus once the campus would reopen. Provost Rachel Croson told the board that the university planned to utilize dormitory rooms and other off-campus locations for isolation spaces if needed.
“This continues to be a challenging time and there is much uncertainty,” Croson told Regents, according to the Star-Tribune.
Regents, meanwhile, expressed optimism with the notion of providing students with a sense of normalcy in the midst of uncertainty. Regents indicated they would consider the measure with "eyes open" and while concerns remain about the possibility of another outbreak of the pandemic, moving ahead with a return to in-person learning is the right thing to do.
“The sooner we’re able to move into some state of normal interaction with each other, I think, far the better,” Regent Darrin Rosha said during the meeting, according to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.