Seton Hall’s newly established Re-Opening Operations Team, or ROOT, announced on Friday that it would submit its full reopening plan to the state for approval “as early as next week,” marking the latest signal that the University is moving closer to announcing its full plan for a fall 2020 return.
The announcement comes just over a week after new guidance from New Jersey’s Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE) in conjunction with Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled the state’s widely anticipated guidelines for colleges and universities to reopen.
“I'm glad today that after some months of uncertainty, we are at the point where we can safely begin restarting campus operations for students, faculty and staff,” Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis said at a June 17 press briefing. “That said, colleges this fall and summer will not look the same as they did last year.”
The state guidelines lay out a series of mandated policies and procedures to facilitate on-campus returns in the fall, such as the use of face coverings, COVID-19 testing protocols, social distancing in campus areas and limitations on the number of students who can reside in residence halls. Institutions must independently define how they plan to adhere to the guidance and submit their plans to the state for approval at least 14 days prior to their anticipated reopening date.
According to the email from ROOT co-chairs Dr. Katia Passerini and Dr. Shawna Cooper-Gibson – who also serve as Provost and Vice President of Student Services, respectively – Seton Hall participated in providing state officials with recommendations about statewide reopening guidelines for colleges and universities, noting that the new guidance is “fully aligned with Seton Hall’s ongoing reopening planning efforts.”
Seton Hall established early on that it would be pushing to reopen in the fall, becoming the first school in New Jersey and one of the first in the country to announce its intention to return in August through a “hybrid flexible” model that will allow students to attend class both remotely and in-person, though the school had been light on specific details while it waited for official guidance from the state.
In Friday’s email, the ROOT Team shed additional light on the specifics of its COVID-19 reopening efforts, offering a further glimpse at what in-person instruction may look like.
In addition to new technology being installed in classrooms to facilitate remote learning, plexiglass barriers will also be installed “near podiums and in other teaching spaces,” according to the University.
The University also noted that contact tracing will be facilitated through a statewide system in coordination with each New Jersey university’s independent student health services, though it is currently unclear what this system would look like or how testing and contact tracing would actually be carried out on campuses.
According to the state’s guidance, “Institutions will want to consider and communicate screening protocols to stakeholders as soon as possible. This may include daily temperature checks or logging of symptoms.”
Additionally, the School laid out new processes for faculty, clergy, staff and administrators who are reluctant to return to work in the fall due to the potential risk of infection for themselves or their family, requesting University employees to work through human resources if requesting accommodations for medical reasons.
For other employees, the email said the School will be “asking ROOT to advise and make recommendations regarding the scope and range of accommodations and adjustments to be made as we plan for reopening Seton Hall and serving our students this fall.”
These are not the first new guidelines from Seton Hall’s reopening plan to be announced.
Last week, the University rolled out new policies that hinted how it would comply with certain orders from the state, including designating the off-campus apartment Ora Manor as a quarantine facility and the tightening of residence hall occupancy rules by maxing out all dorms to two students, eliminating triples, to accommodate for social distancing.
“We know this is not what you chose when you participated in housing selection and that this change is a sacrifice on your part,” an email from Housing and Residence Life to affected students read. “However, due to the community needs we face for the fall semester, we will work collaboratively with you in making this change.”
The new housing policies have raised some concerns among students about dorming in the fall. On Wednesday, the popular student Instagram meme account @setonhallmemes commented on the School’s announcement, posting a photo that read “Seton Hall raising the price of dorming while also kicking some people out of their rooms without providing a solution” with a picture of a character from the popular TV series “The Flash” saying “my goals are beyond your understanding.”
When reached for comment, interim Director of Housing and Residence Life Jessica Porano said the University is “working with students to ensure that those assigned housing will have housing.”
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @nickdotkerr.