Clemson University plans in-person classes synced with online this fall


COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Clemson University plans to hold in-person classes in the fall but synchronize them with online instruction.

University officials said Wednesday that means learning won’t be disrupted if a student is infected with COVID-19 or a second wave of infections closes campus. School leaders didn’t provide specifics on their plans in an online presentation to university trustees.

The University of South Carolina announced a return to in-person classes in the fall earlier this week. Also Wednesday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster plans to speak to reporters. McMaster hinted earlier this week he may reopen tourist attractions like mini golf courses and museums for the holiday weekend.

On Thursday, Clemson President Jim Clements issued the following message:

Dear Clemson Family:

As we first said a month ago, and as I told our Board of Trustees again yesterday, Clemson University is laser focused on returning to on-campus learning and living this fall. We are excited about the prospect of being back with our students and we are committed to returning to our campuses in a manner prioritizing the health and well-being of our students, employees and communities.

This undertaking is incredibly complex and we are intent on being as thoughtful and data-driven as possible in our approach. The University’s Executive Leadership Team and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) have been working every day for weeks on a methodical, phased plan that we are confident will allow us to welcome students back to campus in August.

Our three-phase process to returning in the fall is scheduled to begin June 1 and establishes guidelines for the University to respond to COVID-19 in coordination with federal and state recommendations and orders. The framework identifies key medical indicators related to the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities and will provide guidance as we progress from one phase to the next, expanding operations as we go, while allowing flexibility to our employees during this challenging period.

Additional details about the framework will be made available in the near future, but here is an overview of each phase:

Phase I features limited on-campus University operations for those faculty and staff members who cannot complete their work functions adequately while working remotely. We anticipate only a small percentage of employees returning during this phase.

Employees should not return to their workspaces unless instructed to do so by their supervisor. Those who return will do so under specific safety guidelines related to social distancing, face coverings and other precautions, which we will share with employees and supervisors in the next week. In alignment with state regulations, only essential business travel will be allowed during this phase and our campuses will remain closed for events and group activities.

Phase II involves bringing back a moderate number of employees to their workplaces under strict safety guidelines and with an emphasis on social distancing regulation and guidance. As in Phase 1, those considered to be medically vulnerable, or who have care responsibilities for a vulnerable individual, will continue to work remotely.

Phase III will result in a return to on-campus instruction and activities, and the return of nearly all employees to their workspaces. Detailed safety protocols will be put into place, and aggressively communicated.

Each phase includes a gradual expansion of available areas across all our locations, increases in limits to sizes of meetings and social gatherings and a consistent emphasis on non-pharmaceutical interventions to reduce the risk of spread to individuals and through the community. The University also is exploring a range of options related to testing and contact tracing.

We anticipate spending at least 14 days each in Phases 1 and 2 to assess the COVID-19 trends provided by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. We also will closely monitor conditions on our campuses and surrounding areas, and will be prepared to remain in a given phase for longer than 14 days – or revert to a previous phase – if the health indicators warrant such action. We also expect the University to gain additional information as we work through each phase that will help guide future actions.

Much of the work in Phases 1 and 2 is designed to allow our faculty, staff and researchers to return to their workspaces, including laboratories and research facilities, in a safe manner while we continue to plan for the fall.

Our academic and safety leaders have been working tirelessly on options for instruction and an academic calendar for the fall semester. Provost Jones and his academic leadership team met with faculty and academic staff across all our colleges this week to solicit their feedback to our draft academic plan. We plan to start the academic year as previously scheduled.

Additionally, sign-up for on-campus housing will be completed in the next week. Our intent is to have as many students as is reasonable living on campus, taking into account the necessary modifications to protect vulnerable students and temporarily isolate any students who become ill with COVID-19.

As I have said before, these are uncharted waters for higher education – and many aspects of life. We are keenly aware of the strong desire of our students and other members of the Clemson Family to return to some semblance of normal, and I can assure you that is our goal.

At the same time, we intend to take the time we need to be as thoughtful and comprehensive as possible in our decision-making. The overarching priority of the University is the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and the community. I appreciate your patience as we finalize details to minimize the potential for an outbreak at our campuses and protect the most vulnerable, while driving toward a fully operational fall semester.

I am grateful for our faculty and staff who continue to do outstanding work under very challenging circumstances. And to our new and returning students, we can’t wait to see you later this summer –  as well as our May 2020 graduates whom we will welcome back for commencement when it is feasible to do so.

Stay safe – and Go Tigers! 

– Jim Clements, President

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