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ASU, UA And NAU Outline Plans For Fall Reopening

LAUREN GILGER: And let's take a look now at what the beginning of the school year will look like for the tens of thousands of college students in our state. The fall semester starts now in less than a month, even as the pandemic rages on. When this all began, back in March, the state's three public universities — Arizona State University (ASU), the University of Arizona (U of A) and Northern Arizona University (NAU) — all moved their classes online. Now they're each rolling out their plans for how they'll pick up again in the fall. And here to talk about the upcoming semester is KJZZ's Rocio Hernandez, who has been covering all of this for us. Good morning, Rocio.

ROCIO HERNANDEZ: Good morning.

GILGER: OK, so what is this going to look like for college students come fall? How different will this feel from past semesters?

HERNANDEZ: One big difference is obviously going to be the way that classes are going to be offered this semester. All three universities have been planning for months to offer some sort of combination between in-person classes that we're used to, hybrid classes, which are a sort of a combination of in-person — some days you're online, some days, and then just a traditional online classes. And they've all committed to keep class sizes smaller than usual. And they're also equipping their classrooms with technology that allows students to virtually attend those live classes from home through platforms like Zoom, so you can kind of feel like you're in the classroom, but not really. And that'll be especially important for students who might not feel comfortable being in the classes yet, as COVID-19 is still pretty prevalent in our state.

GILGER: Yeah. So obviously, right, this all has to do with trying to prevent a big outbreak of COVID-19 when the school year starts up again. So what are the universities doing to try to prevent that?

HERNANDEZ: So NAU and the U of A recently announced that they wouldn't offer in-person classes right away. NAU's actually starting their semester on August 12th, which is earlier than they usually do, but the classes will begin virtually until August 31st and then after that, NAU expects to pick up the in-person classes again. And in Tucson, University President Robert Robbins made a similar announcement last week. The U of A will slowly start to offer those in-person classes. So in the first week, they're planning to only offer classes that offer research, lab or performing arts components — classes that really can't be accomplished online — and then build up to more in-person class offerings by Labor Day. And NAU's also ending their semester earlier than usual, so they hope to have classes wrapped up by Thanksgiving. And the U of A is conducting remote classes after the Thanksgiving break. So students will still be doing their classes, but they just won't be in person anymore. Here's NAU President Rita Cheng talking more about what the university is doing.

RITA CHENG: We chose to start early so that we could be finished by Thanksgiving. There's a flu season here in Flagstaff, and we wanted to make sure that we didn't have that combination for our students.

GILGER: OK, so what about for students and professors who are going to be on campus? Like, what are some other mitigating strategies the universities are planning to put in place?

HERNANDEZ: So from very early on this summer, all the universities said that they will be requiring everyone to wear a face covering. And this is actually done before local governments decided to develop their own mask mandates. So the universities were pretty ahead on this. And they're also emphasizing to students the importance of getting tested for COVID-19 before you return to campus. And all three universities are going to be requiring testing, especially for students who are living in the residence halls. ASU was the latest university to announce that kind of policy. Here's University President Michael Crow.

MICHAEL CROW: Well, the logic there is that the students that live in residence halls, we have a special responsibility for. So they are living with us, they're living in our house, so to speak. And so people can get tested where they are. And if they can't get tested where they are, they can get tested from us when they get here or if they live here, they can get tested from us now.

HERNANDEZ: But even with all these mitigation efforts, the university presidents know that there's likely going to be transmission of the virus on their campuses. They're just being realistic. In fact, University of Arizona President Robert Robbins predicts that he might see as many as 250 to 350 cases in the first weeks back. He said whether U of A will stay open or not will really depend on public health conditions for the Tucson area at large and the behaviors of students, faculty and staff.

ROBERT ROBBINS: If we see noncompliance, or if the public health conditions require, we will shut this down.

HERNANDEZ: So I think things are still very much up in the air for Arizona universities, and we'll just have to wait and see how successful their mitigation efforts can be.

GILGER: Yep, lots to wait and see for. All right. That is KJZZ's Rocio Hernandez joining us. Rocio, thank you so much.

HERNANDEZ: Thanks for having me. 

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.