At local colleges and universities, faculty, administrators and students have been putting their heads together to plan for reopening.

Many of the changes they made during the past semester will carry over into the next school year, but it will be a learning experience for everyone, as schools likely will have to adapt to changing requirements as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. 

The Colorado Department of Higher Education released updated guidelines for postsecondary institutions June 22 that incorporate Gov. Jared Polis’ safer-at-home order and the Vast, Great Outdoors order, and the department plans to issue further recommendations within the next several weeks.

Local higher education institutions transitioned to remote instruction in the spring and told students not to return to campus for the remainder of the semester. But they will be able to provide in-person instruction under a public health order issued June 18.

Attendance is limited to 50 percent of a classroom’s occupancy limit, up to 50 people. In very large rooms, up to 100 people can be accommodated. The state provided schools with a social distancing calculator to help determine capacity.

Schools must notify the Department of Higher Education of their intent to start on-campus teaching again but are not required to provide detailed information on each class or detailed mitigation information. They are required to have that information on record in case it’s needed in the instance of an outbreak.

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Colleges also are required to limit nonessential campus activities and cap gatherings at 10 individuals, and they must implement policies including social distancing, face coverings, cleaning and disinfecting, and symptom monitoring protocols.

Local colleges are working with the state education and public health agencies, as well as El Paso County Public Health, to make sure they’re following best practices.

NEW UCCS PRACTICES

Five recovery teams at UCCS have been meeting since early May to study and recommend how to reopen the campus safely and in accordance with public health guidelines, while providing as much of the college experience as possible.

One new practice the university will institute is a reservation system and logs, said Jared Verner, UCCS director of communications.

“People can sign up for services in advance to maintain reduced capacities in areas across campus,” Verner said via email. “We’ll be limiting the number of available seats in our common areas and spreading them out to maintain social distancing guidelines.”

The reservations and logs will be critical for contact tracing if someone on campus tests positive after fall semester classes begin Aug. 24.

“With the increased testing capacity and quicker turnaround time for test results from when students were last on campus, it will allow Public Health and our medical staff to quickly identify anyone who was potentially exposed and respond much quicker than in mid-March,” Verner said.

The latest guidelines on classroom capacities were greater than UCCS originally planned for, “so classroom layouts are being modified to accommodate the new guidance,” he said.

While UCCS will prioritize on-campus classes in certain fields, such as science labs, studios, courses that require specialized equipment, upper-division specialized courses and first-year experience courses, many classes will be taught remotely.

“That decision will be made at the faculty and college level depending on the requirements of a course,” Verner said.

For the remainder of the summer and into the fall semester, people will be required to wear masks while on campus — with some exceptions, such as when an instructor is in an office alone — and to maintain social distancing.

Housing assignments began earlier this month for students who will live on campus. The university plans to outline precautions to be followed in residence halls later this summer.

For any events and locations that UCCS doesn’t operate or maintain, such as private residences, “we hope that our students and employees will continue to follow Public Health guidelines,” Verner said.

The university’s planning for the fall is being done with the understanding that the school might have to return to remote learning if conditions change.

“Our faculty were able to make the move to a remote classroom environment well in the spring semester, and will have that experience and additional trainings being offered by our Faculty Resource Center this summer, to make any possible transition smoother,” Verner said.

PHASING IN AT CC

Colorado College will take a phased approach to bringing students back to campus.

First-year students will arrive Aug. 14-16 for a modified orientation and Block 1 classes, which begin Aug. 24. The early sessions help new students get a good start and adjust to CC’s block plan. 

Upperclass students will return for Block 2, which begins Sept. 21.

Colorado College has modified its block plan, under which students take one class at a time, focusing on a subject deeply for 3½ weeks.

Normally, CC schedules eight blocks a year, with short breaks between each block. This year, a new block in January and additional half blocks and summer courses will supplement the academic calendar to give students greater scheduling flexibility and allow them to complete up to 10 blocks. 

“We will offer classes via distance learning for the whole year, knowing that some students, because of their own vulnerabilities or those of family members, may choose not to be on campus but still want the opportunity to be engaged,” said Mike Edmonds, vice president for student life, dean of students and acting co-president-elect.

Faculty members will have the opportunity to teach remotely if they are concerned about themselves or their families.

“What certainly will be different is how students might experience the campus,” Edmonds said. “There will be some college traditions that will take on virtual form or some that may have to take a pause this year.”

Edmonds said the college has been working all summer to prepare residence halls for safe occupancy.

“Most of our students will live on campus,” he said. “We’ve also secured spaces off campus that will allow us to be able to quarantine students and also to give more options in our stock for students who may prefer single rooms.”

Colorado College designated several working groups to develop a reopening plan in accordance with state guidelines. It was announced June 26.

While expectations about wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing have been added to the college’s code of conduct, “it needs to be cool to do so,” Edmonds said.

“We’re really working to create cultural change and individual responsibility and what is expected to be a good community member at Colorado College.

“I think that our community will take this seriously.”

HYBRID CLASSES AT PPCC

Pikes Peak Community College’s reopening plan is still in development, President Lance Bolton said.

“We are crystal clear that we are going to require masks or face coverings for anybody on campus,” he said.

Instructors must wear masks in classrooms unless a room is large enough so that there is at least 12 feet between the instructor and students.

Some instructors have expressed concerns about being able to be heard while wearing a masks or about students not being able to see facial expressions or read lips.

“We’re concerned about that loss of communication, so we’re looking at some clear face shields,” Bolton said. 

“We’re also very clear on maintaining 6-foot distancing,” he said. 

The college has already set up classrooms for science labs, auto tech, welding and nursing classes and is reconfiguring common areas, computer labs, tutoring centers and other classrooms to accomplish social distancing.

The school is finding that challenging, however, because many of its classrooms will not be large enough to accommodate a normal-sized class.

One solution being considered is a cycle hybrid format, where a class would be split into two groups that meet on alternate days.

“So instead of coming to class twice a week, they come to class once a week, and there would be more online or digital remote support in between,” Bolton said.

PPCC also is considering an approach it’s calling “hi-flex hybrid” to accommodate students with differing needs.

“There would be a faculty member teaching a class live, in person,” Bolton said. “Some of the students would be there live, in person, and some would be participating online synchronously. We would also record those sessions so students could watch those later.”

Bolton said he expects 25-50 class sections to be taught that way by instructors who are comfortable with the technology.

For those who aren’t and would prefer teaching either strictly online or in person, “we’re allowing that as well,” he said.

Bolton expects that when the fall semester begins Aug. 24, more students will take fully online classes because of concerns about their health or the need for flexibility to accommodate child care or work.

“This summer, we’re up about 30 percent in online enrollment,” Bolton said. “I expect that shift is going to be permanent.”

For students who do not have access to needed technology — a significant issue for many PPCC students, the college will continue to loan laptops to those in need and direct them to low-cost internet service providers.

Bolton also expects that some campus jobs will continue to be done remotely, perhaps permanently.

Employees in the college’s call center “have answered and dealt with more calls working from home over the last four months than they’ve ever dealt with,” he said. “They’ve certainly proved they’re incredibly productive working in that environment.”

Bolton said he is certain that PPCC will be open and fully operational this fall.

“It is absolutely critical for our schools to be open because, for a lot of our students, if their educational journey is interrupted, they may never come back to school and that may be an opportunity that’s lost to them for their lifetime.” 

AIR FORCE ACADEMY

The U.S. Air Force Academy did not respond to numerous requests for information about its reopening plans.

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