Iowa State University will begin fall semester classes a week early and end the day before Thanksgiving, one of several changes unveiled Wednesday for the university’s planned reopening.
Other changes include reducing the number of students in each class and a requiring them to wear masks.
“We are making every effort to maximize in-person learning and the student learning experiences that are a defining characteristic of an Iowa State education,” President Wendy Wintersteen wrote in a news release. “Adjusting the calendar will allow us to complete the semester before Thanksgiving and minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 due to holiday travel.”
The semester will begin on Aug. 17, a week earlier than originally scheduled, and end on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. Additionally, classes will be held on Labor Day, the release said.
“We had looked at the Thanksgiving break as a goal, and also (as) potentially problematic,” John Lawrence, vice president for ISU Extension and Outreach and chair of Iowa State’s Executive Committee on Fall Planning, told the Tribune. “You send people home for a week, you bring them back, and so our goal was to try to minimize the amount of mixing.”
Other universities also have considered getting rid of Thanksgiving break, Lawrence said.
“I saw a survey where university presidents and administrators … 25 to 30% have made that decision or have considered it, so we knew we were not out of the norm,” Lawrence said. “Because we were reducing two weeks in the fall, we’ve added one week at the start of the semester, and we’ll look at other ways to get the academic time in.”
Changes announced for classes, resident halls, ISU Dining
When classes start this fall, students and professors will be required to wear masks while the classrooms, according to Wednesday’s announcement, and class size will be reduced to half-capacity.
All staff and students will be provided two cloth face coverings, according to Lawrence, and, as a result of reduced class size, all large lectures — which typically enroll 300 to 400 students — will be moved online. The larger lectures will be supplemented with breakouts and discussion groups.
“We’re looking at up to 50% normal capacity for a classroom,” Lawrence said. “Our medium-sized lectures will move into those larger classrooms to get 50 percent, and the smaller classes (also) will move into larger classrooms as we take the very largest (lectures) online.”
The time between classes also will be extended, according to the the university’s announcement, in an effort to “avoid congestion in campus buildings, walkways and buses.”
It said that in order to provide options for students who may need to self-isolate as a result of exposure to the virus, many classes will be offered in “multiple delivery options,” including in-person, online and hybrid.
“The Academic Continuity Group really put a lot of time and effort into this, and they were trying to look at options,” Lawrence said. “It’s not just, ‘Is there a second wave?’ it’s (about) what happens for those students who don’t feel like they can come back to campus because of either their health concern or their parents.”
The group also looked at how students could continue to succeed in classes if they were exposed to the virus.
“If we do have to further tighten down (at the university), whether that is study in place, stay on campus but don’t come to class, or as we did in the spring, worst case scenario, then our professors are ready for it.”
Students will be able to live on campus, according to the announcement, as the university will offer both single and double occupancy rooms, increase cleaning and spread out the move-in process to “reduce congestion and allow for physical distancing.”
There will be options for students if they become exposed to COVID-19, as the university plans to have some spaces reserved for those students who need to self-isolate or quarantine.
The university’s Thielen Student Health Center is “working to develop plans for comprehensive COVID-19 testing” for students, faculty and staff at ISU, which include contact tracing to identify the location where the individual was exposed, the release said.
In addition, ISU will eliminate self-serve options in dining halls and modify operations to reduce capacity, according to the release.
The extended move-in dates for students have not yet been identified, Lawrence said.
“We are allowing more time and doing more scheduling so it is more orderly,” Lawrence said.
Planning still underway for fall, spring return
Since May, the executive committee for fall planning — comprised of 16 university staff members — has met daily to develop plans for reopening. The team also has worked with a series of working groups, Lawrence said, “some of which have been going since last spring.”
“We could pull on (the working groups) for their expertise as a question would come to us, we could task out to them to do the research on it and get us feedback,” Lawrence said.
The university also has been working closely with local governments.
“Our public health and student health center is working very closely with the city of Ames, Story County — they’re almost in contact daily,” Lawrence said. “It’s a great partnership, and we are thinking beyond our borders because many of our students shop in the community, work in the community, live in the community, and so it’s all part of our thought process as well.”
In the letter to students, Wintersteen encouraged students to practice physical distancing and to also wear masks when out in the community.
“Everyone will be strongly encouraged to show their care for our ISU community and the City of Ames by adhering to the advice, guidelines and best practices of health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) and other professional health organizations,” Wintersteen wrote to students. “Physical distancing and the wearing of face coverings when in class or shopping at stores, or when we’re around others will be expected.”
Though the first announcement was made on Wednesday, planning for the fall semester is not over, Lawrence said.
“We’re trying to get the fall (semester) taken care of first,” Lawrence said. “We are giving some thought to the spring (semester), but we’re also closely watching what’s happening with vaccine development, and if there is widespread vaccines available, that will certainly simplify decisions about the spring. But for now, we’re trying to get students back to campus and breathe life back into Iowa State campus this fall.”