Loyola Announces Plan to Shift Most Fall Classes Online Amid Continued Spread of COVID-19

Zack Miller | The PhoenixThe decision to shift classes mostly online comes as COVID-19 cases in certain states have surged.

Loyola plans to hold most fall classes online as a result of increased coronavirus cases and deaths across numerous states, officials announced in an email July 13.

The university now plans to limit in-person courses to those requiring in-person interaction. This may include labs, experiential learning classes and research — according to the email, signed by Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney and Provost Norberto M. Grzywacz.

The decision comes as COVID-19 cases in certain states have surged. In Illinois, new COVID-19 cases decreased throughout the late spring and early summer, but the state tallied more than 1,000 new cases for the first time since early June late last week.

Rooney and Grzywacz confirmed the school will provide “necessary in-person, on-campus instruction and research opportunities to both domestic and international students.”

“These opportunities will enable them to meet the requirements of their respective degree programs,” the email stated. “Our faculty, advisors, and staff will work directly with students to address their academic needs and course schedules.”

The email comes after the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced controversial guidelines July 6 stating nonimmigrant international students attending universities operating entirely online “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States,” among other restrictions. The specifics of exactly how this change will impact international students is unclear.

ICE didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.

In several separate emails, Rooney and Grzywacz said they’re “troubled” by the guidelines and reinforced their commitment to international students. They outlined some legal and legislative actions the university has taken to support international students.

“This is a crazy, crazy ruling in our opinion,” Grzywacz said in an interview with The Phoenix. “We are doing similar [things] to other universities in the sense of creating opportunities [for international students] on campus. … We are prepared in case courts uphold ICE.”

Officials said the university still plans to welcome students in the residence halls using a single-occupancy plan and offer “robust, low-density, socially distant programs” for students.

The school will conduct frequent COVID-19 testing and “extensive contact tracing,” according to the email about the back-to-school plan. Faculty and staff will also be required to maintain a minimum of six feet social distance from each other while wearing masks. Conference rooms, kitchens and eating areas will be restricted, and employees will be encouraged to use personal coolers and will have staggered work schedules with alternating shifts, officials said.

The university plans to reduce class sizes and require students to wear masks and maintain social distance with other practices to keep campus safe, including markers on the floor to indicate the location of assigned seats and 30-minute extended passing periods to avoid overcrowding, the email said. Highly touched areas will be wiped often and hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes will be widely available. Return-to-work training will also be offered, officials said.

Loyola’s reopening will be “limited and phased” consistent with Chicago directives and the Restore Illinois Plan, the email said, and the decision was influenced by “all available data, recommendations by the scientific community, and the directives by city and state officials.”

Grzywacz told reporters Loyola’s administration is “cautiously optimistic” about the situation.

Loyola officials spent several weeks garnering feedback from “thousands” of community members through faculty and staff surveys, calls and emails, a faculty advisory group and deans and chairs, the email said. Students, faculty and staff on the Management, Policy and Command team under the school’s Emergency Response Plan also “discussed the fall semester thoroughly.”

Students can expect specifics on fall schedules in the coming days, the email said, as deans and chairs work to complete the schedule of courses offered.

Further information can be accessed on Loyola’s Return to Campus website.

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