SUNY Oneonta outlines plan to reopen in fall

Morris

SUNY Oneonta unveiled Thursday its plan for reopening the campus for the fall semester.

“Based on our values, we believe we can bring students back to campus safely,” SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Morris told The Daily Star. “It will be a very different experience.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo included guidance for the reopening of higher education institutions in Phase Four of his statewide reopening plan, Morris said, but allowed each campus to tailor its plan to the needs of its campus and community, subject to approval by SUNY officials.

The fall semester will run from Aug. 24 to Dec. 15, but will not include the usual mid-October fall break, Morris said. Instead, students will move out the weekend prior to Thanksgiving and complete the remainder of their coursework, including final exams, online.

“We’re attempting to have students remain on campus and in the area as much as possible,” Morris said, in an effort to limit the potential spread of the virus from students’ hometowns to the campus.

Classes will be a mix of in-person and online learning, Morris said, and some classes will offer a hybrid of the two. Most classrooms will be reduced to 50% capacity, while larger lecture halls will be reduced to 30%.

“We’re trying to accommodate all student concerns,” Morris said.

Students and campus employees are required to participate in routine screenings and public health training, Morris said. The college procured more than 5,000 N95 masks and 25,000 non-surgical masks so that all personnel will be provided with reusable cloth or disposable face masks. Students will not be provided masks but will be required to wear them in places on campus where social distancing is not possible.

Two residence halls will be closed for the semester so they may be used by students who need to quarantine or isolate themselves after potential virus exposure, Morris said. Corridor-style rooms will be limited to two residents, and suites and double rooms will be treated as family units. Face coverings will be required in common areas, and cross-access between halls will be limited.

Dining halls will facilitate social distancing by increasing seating separation, removing furniture, limiting entry and staggering mealtimes, according to the plan. Grab-and-go dining options will also be available.

“We’re bringing in 7,000 students, probably from all 50 states,” said Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig. “This will be a large challenge and we’re all going to have to work closely together to establish a culture of expectation, one that protects our students and year-round population.”

Herzig said he was offered the chance to provide input on the early drafts of the college’s reopening plan, but did not see the final version until it was made publicly available Thursday afternoon. He said he requested a meeting with campus administrators to discuss how the college and the city could collaborate.

“College plans typically do an excellent job of ensuring the safety of students,” he said. “The real challenge for all of us is being able to expect the same types of behaviors off-campus,” in private residences and downtown establishments.

The Oneonta Police Department will have the authority to shut down house parties or public gatherings that are overcrowded or otherwise unsafe due to the pandemic, Herzig said.

“We can prevent overcrowding, but we can’t tell people sharing an apartment that they can’t be in the same room at the same time," he said.

Morris emphasized that the reopening could change at any time.

“It could change tomorrow, but I think we’re prepared,” she said.

The college’s complete reopening plan may be viewed at suny.oneonta.edu/fall-2020-re-start-plan

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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