July 8 Message to Undergraduates: Our Plans for Fall Semester

NOTE: School and college deans will be communicating directly with graduate/professional students.

To Our Undergraduates:

We write today to announce Case Western Reserve University’s approach to the Fall 2020 semester, and to thank you for your patience. After a spring term full of disruption and adaptation, we wish we could have shared detailed updates about the 2020-2021 academic year right away. In light of our spring experiences and ongoing pandemic developments, however, we first needed to evaluate academic and residential options thoroughly, as well as potential measures to mitigate risk.

We are deeply grateful to the faculty, staff and student leaders who have dedicated untold hours to these efforts, as well as the outside experts who have helped advise us on matters ranging from COVID-19 testing to classroom capacities. All that said, we must acknowledge that new events may require rapid changes to the carefully considered plans that follow; in such circumstances, we will communicate as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

The pandemic is not the only historic aspect of recent months. George Floyd’s death and the demonstrations that followed have led to a national reckoning on race—not only in terms of police misconduct, but also with regard to inequities spanning areas such as health, economics and education. Last month, Case Western Reserve held a Day of Dialogue to explore such issues in society and on our campus. Work is now focused on developing action steps to address common university themes during the upcoming year, including a potential collaboration among nine other leading U.S. universities to share courses involving race and justice, African and African American Studies, Latinx Studies, among others. We look forward to sharing more information about these efforts later this summer.

Finally, we cannot wait to welcome students back next month, and hope you are just as eager to arrive. But we also need to be clear that many of your campus experiences will differ significantly from those in the past. Unfortunately, the restrictions and other changes are necessary aspects of our efforts to protect your health, and that of the rest of the university community.

Through surveys and other means, you have made clear your strong preference for being on campus. Our ability to continue in-person education this fall depends in large measure on your ability to meet these expectations. Through conversations with student leaders, we have gained confidence that you will.

This message is divided into the following sections:

  1. Teaching and Learning
  2. Campus Housing and Dining
  3. Student Life
  4. Testing and Other Pandemic-Related Health Measures
  5. Move In and "What If"

1. Teaching and Learning
As noted in previous communications, we recognize that some international students may not be able to get to Cleveland before classes begin Aug. 24, while others—international and domestic—may need or prefer to take courses remotely. Given that context, we have committed to dual-delivery of courses whenever possible this fall.

For those able to attend in-person offerings, we worked closely with internal and external facilities experts to assess existing and potential academic spaces. From there, we collaborated with faculty and deans regarding the nature of specific academic offerings, as well as their prior enrollments. Those conversations catalyzed impressive creativity regarding ways to engage students on or off campus.

In the end, we determined that about 60 percent of the courses from our undergraduate-serving schools will have some or frequent in-person instruction. A few of the remaining offerings might have select opportunities for in-person activities, but primarily will be remote in nature.

As part of this planning and assessment, we have set capacity limits on all instructional spaces and are in the process of installing Plexiglas dividers and removing or covering chairs to ensure physically distant seating. In addition, masks are required to be worn by all individuals in all indoor settings and, as of a state order issued yesterday, in outdoor settings where physical distancing is not possible. In addition, HVAC equipment is being upgraded to meet national standards, which can be found online.

The Office of the Registrar is in the process of updating Fall 2020 listings to indicate which courses will be in-person, fully remote, or a combination of in-person and remote. We will notify you once this process is complete. At that time, returning students also will be able to review their designations for the courses they previously selected and consider changes to their schedules. First-year students will see the designations when they register later this month.

We will notify you when this online information becomes available. If, after reviewing that information, students prefer to take all courses remotely, they should contact their navigators promptly to determine what schedule changes may be necessary. In addition, students planning for remote learning should review [U]Tech’s recommendations for technologies.

Finally, we recognize that this week’s federal announcement regarding temporary exemptions for international students has created significant confusion and concern regarding potential implications for visa status. International Student Services is communicating directly with these students and will provide ongoing updates on this extremely fluid situation.

2. Campus Housing and Dining
As part of preparations for the fall semester, the university retained a certified infection control and prevention specialist from Cleveland Clinic to inspect all campus housing and provide recommendations. We also consulted with university faculty in infectious disease, public health and epidemiology, and colleagues at other leading universities.

Based on those conversations, our approach is as follows:

  • Rooms: The majority of our housing for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors includes individual bedroom options, albeit typically within the context of a larger suite; we are arranging furniture in suite common areas to support appropriate physical distancing. For incoming first-year students and others with roommates (vs. suitemates), beds will be separated by at least 6 feet and oriented for maximum distance between heads. Any changes to furniture configurations will need to be approved in advance by Student Affairs staff.
  • Restrooms/Shower Areas: We are modifying these areas to maximize distance among those using them. In addition, Student Affairs staff will communicate with students about the number of people permitted to be in the area at any one time, and also work with them on developing schedules for showers.
  • Residence Hall Common Areas (e.g. elevators, laundry rooms, etc.): These areas will have capacity limits and reconfigured furniture arrangements to encourage social distancing.
  • Sanitizing Supplies: Hand sanitizer stations will be located throughout residence halls, including entrances, common areas, elevators, stairways, and hallways—as well as in buildings throughout the rest of campus. In addition, disinfectant wipes will be located in all common areas.
  • Cleaning Common Areas: Facilities and custodial staff will follow enhanced cleaning protocols for common areas, including more frequent cleaning in general with particular attention to “high-touch” surfaces such as door knobs and handles, railings, bathroom fixtures, etc.
  • Other Cleaning Information: As with classroom buildings, university facilities staff are assessing all residence halls with regard to ventilation and circulation. Details include preventive maintenance of mechanical HVAC systems, upgraded filters and edge-sealing, and maximized outdoor air supply.

With regard to campus dining, all locations will offer a small range of boxed meals that include vegetarian choices as well as those for individuals with specific dietary restrictions. Because of physical distancing requirements, dining halls will have extremely limited seating, but the university is adding outdoor tables and chairs for student use while the weather is warmer. Finally, we are working with Bon Appetit on the possibility of allowing customized pre-ordering at campus retail dining options—such as those in the Tinkham Veale University Center.

3. Student Life
The Division of Student Affairs has been working on campus programming that accommodates physical distancing and related protective measures. Staff also plan to provide engagement opportunities for students not on campus. To date, a small number of student leaders have been involved in these discussions. Now that we have greater clarity about our overall fall plans, the division is expanding its outreach to involve more student leaders in identifying more ways to enhance student life within the constraints the pandemic requires.

Unfortunately, those constraints will require that we suspend some activities altogether. After extensive internal deliberation, consultation with health experts, and discussion with members of the University Athletic Association, we have determined that fall season varsity and club athletic competition cannot take place safely. We very much regret that health considerations require this decision, and are especially sorry for those senior athletes who will not be able to complete in their last season before graduating. We will be working with coaches and other staff to develop options for these students to be able to continue to practice and otherwise maintain their fitness; please note that this season will not count against athletes’ time of eligibility to compete. We also are exploring models for some forms of intramural activity to continue.

Later this month, Student Affairs leaders will share more extensive information regarding plans for other extracurricular activities, as well as a document that student leaders are developing that details a collective commitment to help protect the health of all members of the campus community.

4. Testing and Other Pandemic-Related Health Measures
As we noted at the beginning of this message, our ability to continue in-person offerings and on-campus housing in the fall will depend heavily on your ability to comply with measures designed to protect your health and that of the rest of the campus community. We detail several of those expectations below:

Health Protocols Orientation: Prior to arriving on campus, undergraduates must participate in an online orientation session involving infection prevention and control. This requirement applies whether living on or off campus.

This session will cover such student responsibilities as:

  • Completing a daily online symptom assessment (including a temperature check);
  • Proper personal hygiene (e.g. washing hands, using hand sanitizer, etc.);
  • Maintaining physical distance (6 feet) from others; and
  • Wearing cloth masks at all times indoors, except within personal living areas and/or when alone in a room.

We will share more details about dates and registration processes for these sessions once they are finalized.

Personal Health Monitoring Prior to Coming to Campus: Students will be expected to monitor for COVID-19-related symptoms for 14 days prior to arrival on campus. University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS) will direct students with symptoms to appropriate clinical consultation, testing, and result management. UHCS also will work with local providers to help coordinate and speed the testing process. Students with symptoms should notify UHCS and delay arrival on campus until health services provides written permission.

Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, students coming to campus from outside the country will be required to quarantine for 14 days before coming to campus. Tomorrow the university is sending international students a more detailed communication about scheduling their arrivals in the U.S.

Health Kits: Upon arrival to campus, all students will receive a drawstring bag containing the following items: two cloth masks, one thermometer, travel-size disinfecting wipes, alcohol swabs, tissues, two individually wrapped disposable masks to be worn in the event of illness, and travel-size hand sanitizer on a silicone strap (so it can be attached to a backpack or the like).

Initial COVID-19 Testing: The university plans to test all undergraduates living on campus following their arrival on campus. After completing that process, efforts will turn to testing undergraduates living off campus, and finally, graduate and professional students.

Throughout this time, UHCS will promptly arrange testing of symptomatic students and those potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19.

We will finalize plans regarding the nature and timing of subsequent testing of asymptomatic students (also known as surveillance testing) based on key disease indicators, including the incidence on campus and disease prevalence in Cuyahoga County, and will provide additional details when they are available.

Positive Tests and Potential Exposure: When a student tests positive for COVID-19, UHCS will follow its protocol for notification, isolation and contact tracing. For students living in campus housing, the university has set aside a substantial number of individual rooms in separate buildings for students living on campus who develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19. During that time, UHCS staff will contact them daily and Residence Life staff will coordinate delivery of meals and provide additional support.

In addition, UHCS staff will immediately begin “contact tracing,” which involves reaching out to those individuals (students and others) whose interactions with the student represent close contact (as determined by the nature and duration of those interactions). Students living in campus housing who have been in close contact also will be relocated to one of the rooms previously set aside for exposed students, with check-ins, meals and support similar to that provided to students who have tested positive.

5. Move In and “What If”
Later this month, the Office of Housing will notify students that they can begin online scheduling of specific time slots to arrive and move their belongings into their on-campus housing. Rising sophomores, juniors and seniors will be able to select times from Aug. 12-23; first-year students will be able to register for times from Aug. 17-Aug. 19.

Given all of this information, some students and their families may decide that they prefer to remain at home and take courses remotely. Again, after the registrar’s updated course designations are available, the students considering that option should contact their navigators. For now, please know that the university will not charge room and board cancellation fees whether a student chooses not to return or is unable to come to campus.

Meanwhile, the national surge in cases—with specific states emerging as new “hot spots”—has spurred questions from some about whether the university will require students from certain areas to quarantine in Ohio before moving on campus. Given the speed of recent developments, it is difficult to provide precise responses to such questions at this moment. What we can say for certain is that the university will comply fully with all state, county and local requirements regarding students coming to Ohio to move onto campus.

Similarly, we have heard from parents eager to know what campus developments would prompt a return to fully remote operations. Again, directives from government officials would cause such steps, as would a significant number of positive cases among students. We certainly learned a great deal from the spring about the execution of such a transition—particularly with regard to on-campus students—and will apply those lessons to our protocols for such situations. As with so much else in these uncertain times, definitive answers offered now are likely to become moot—or at least somewhat inaccurate—in the wake of quickly evolving new circumstances.

The complexities that COVID-19 continues to create mean that no single message—even when as long as this one—can cover every point students and families want addressed. This message provides an overview of our preparations across multiple areas. We and our staffs are moving as quickly as we responsibly can; both we and leaders of individual offices will continue to share information throughout the coming weeks.

For now, we hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well. Again, we very much appreciate your patience as we work through details of the new semester.

Barbara R. Snyder

Ben Vinson III
Provost and Executive Vice President