Berea College to welcome 950 students

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After making the hard decision to close Berea College to in-person learning back in March — becoming the first college in the state to do so — Berea College President Lyle Roelofs said re-opening plans were just as hard to determine.

“We have been credited for an early, but correct decision,” he said. “The decision to re-open was equally as challenging for us as how and when to close.”

Roelofs informed the Berea City Council Tuesday night that the college faculty and staff wanted to “give as much choice as they can” to their near 1,600 students.

For the incoming first years or transfers planning to attend college in the fall, an option was given to either defer their admission until January without penalty or come to campus as originally intended.

A vast majority — almost 350 students — chose in-person.

The president said the college would welcome these students on Saturday and Sunday during move-in, an event which will look a lot different this year.

Students will be moved in during certain time frames with half of the students moving in on Saturday and the other half on Sunday.

Additionally, only two people per student are allowed on campus to assist in the move-in process. A mask is required.

Furthermore, students planning to move on campus this week will have to bring a negative COVID-19 test result as their “ticket onto campus,” Roelofs explained.

Returning students were given three options of how to continue their instruction at the college. They too could decide to defer their instruction or return and commit to full in-residence learning. Students could also choose to continue online/distance learning.

He told the council that only a few elected to defer, roughly 50% of students opted to return to campus, and the other 50% wanted to remain in online learning.

“When I saw those numbers, I saw how correct it had been for us to offer a choice,” Roelofs said. “Had we said, ‘No you all need to come back,’ or, ‘No, you all need to stay using online methods,’ half the students would not have gotten the choice of the answer they believe serves their interests best.”

With the numbers of students projected to come back to campus, Roelofs expects 950 students to be on Berea’s campus, or around town, in the fall.

Normally welcoming back 1,600 students, Roelofs said, the campus will be less dense this semester. Most students will remain single in a normal double-occupancy room, which he thinks will help hinder the spread of the virus.

He said the main point of protection on campus would be “very extensive public health measures,” such as universal masking, social distancing, extensive hand washing, cleaning of spaces and even rearranging the academic calendar.

“Once they are here, they are here until Thanksgiving,” he said. "They will complete the whole semester in those 13 weeks and be done and head for home.”

Roelofs also discussed mask policies at the college.

The only time students or faculty can remove a mask is if they are in their residence hall alone, personal office alone or working outside away from others.

Upon individuals' return to campus from Thanksgiving, they will be tested once again, and random tests are planned to be administered so that students and faculty will be tested at least twice throughout the semester.

“With all those measures, it is our hope — and I realize it is only a hope — that if we have cases on campus … that case will not turn into a major outbreak,” the president said.

The college also made 63 spaces available for student quarantine and decided in advance if there are 10 or more positive cases for faculty or staff doing in-person learning, they could close the campus.

If they begin to see community transmission — of one person infecting up to 30 people — that would also be a reason for the staff to decide to close the campus.

“In that case, we would regretfully consider closing the campus to in-person instruction,” he stated.

Lastly, Roelofs made mention that faculty was given a choice of whether or not their courses could be taught virtually.

“There is a difference between an art studio class on one hand and a philosophy lecture,” Roelofs said. “… One might be suitable online, and the other less so.”

Sixty percent of Berea College classes will be taught online for the 2020-2021 school year, and 40% will be offered in person.

“That is the way we are approaching this semester, with fingers crossed and with many admonitions from the president and everyone else about how important it is to make grave decisions,” Roelofs said. "It is not only about your health, but also about our ability to continue to operate.”

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.

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