Students to return to Florida’s 12 university campuses this fall

By John Haughey
The Center Square
May 30, 2020

(The Center Square) – All 12 state universities will open in August with 420,000 students returning to campuses for fall semester under a plan unanimously approved by the Florida Board of Governors (BOG).

The plan, or blueprint, is designed to guide each university in developing its own specific reopening plan. The 12 schools must present those plans to the BOG by June 12.

“We really must recognize that each university is different and, therefore, each must present a plan best suited for its unique circumstances and characteristics,” BOG Chairman Syd Kitson said Thursday.

“I am confident our universities will make the best possible decisions with the information we currently have,” Kitson said, “but the success of these plans depend upon the collective efforts of everyone to respect the new protocols and set an example for others, both on and off campus.”

The blueprint was developed by a State University System of Florida (SUS) task force, which included representatives from each school.

Under the outline, universities will expand “hybrid combinations” of face-to-face classes and online instruction, with class sizes meeting social distancing guidelines and “varied scheduling” for classroom instruction to dilute campus density.

“We are hoping we can tailor our academic delivery in such a way that we’re meeting the student where the student wants to be met,” SUS Chancellor Marshall Criser III said.

Criser said since about 72 percent of students attend a school in a different county from their primary residence, universities will need a COVID-19 testing plan for individuals coming to campus from areas with “significant community transmission” and must develop a process to rapidly respond to campus “hot spots.”

Universities must present plans on how they will work with the Florida Department of Health on contact tracing and surveillance and provide “suitable facilities for isolating students who live on campus and test positive for coronavirus until they are no longer infectious.”

“Agility is critical as we continue to monitor and make adjustments to address the challenges presented by COVID-19,” Criser said. “Moving forward, we will engage our communities in recognizing the responsibility that lies within all of us – campus community, local community, students, faculty, staff, volunteers, and visitors – to work towards a healthy environment for all who come to our campuses.”

Universities should have plans for intercollegiate athletics and other student extracurricular activities, including Greek organizations, student clubs, intramural sports and social gatherings, according to the blueprint.

However, whether – and how – sports, such as football, will be played this fall remains uncertain.

The Southeastern and Big 12 conferences voted last week to open their campus training facilities in June for voluntary workouts, following the end of an NCAA ban on on-campus sports activities.

The University of Florida (UF) is a member of the SEC. At UF, student-athletes gradually will return over the span of weeks, with fall athletes returning first. The first group of football players returned to campus Tuesday.

“Our sports-medicine team has worked closely with the experts at UFHealth, including the infectious disease staff, to make sure we’re taking every precaution necessary when we bring our athletes back,” UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said in a news release. “The experts know a lot more now than they did two months ago about the virus.”

Florida State University (FSU) is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Last week, ACC Commissioner John Swofford said the league was considering four scenarios: football played as currently scheduled; a shortened season; no football but basketball played as scheduled; no sports at all for the 2020-21 academic year.