After a five-month closure and a host of new changes, UMKC’s fall semester has begun.
Albeit with new safety measures and restrictions, freshmen have moved into the dorms, facilities have opened and limited in-person classes have begun.
“We have been preparing for this day for months now,” said Chancellor Mauli Agrawal in a webinar posted to Youtube on Aug. 12. “We have a special group that has been meeting almost daily to prepare for the reopening.”
The group, dubbed Roos Return, planned new safety measures for the reopening of campus as early as May. As the plan was implemented, critical staff arrived in June, followed by a gradual influx of administrators, faculty and students over the summer.
“I think it’s all coming together very nicely,” said Chancellor Agrawal. “We are ready and we are excited.”
With changes to facilities, new health guidelines, and mandatory training for employees and students, UMKC began limited in-person classes on Aug. 24.
At the time of writing, UMKC’s coronavirus webpage reported eight positive COVID-19 cases among the campus community in the month of August.
Changes to classes:
The campus is not the same as when students left it in March.
“We have done an excellent job of making our campus the safest it can be for you,” said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, the Dean of the School of Medicine. “It is going to be safer than being out in the community. It is going to be safer than being in an apartment.”
Everyone will be required to wear masks at all times while indoors, as well as outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible. The only exceptions to the rule are when a person is in their private office or personal dorm room.
According to UMKC Provost Jennifer Lundgren, around 50% of courses are online, 40% are in-person, and 10% are a hybrid of face-to-face and online learning.
Though professors may require attendance for online coursework, they cannot require attendance for face-to-face class activities.
Classrooms will be reduced to 25% capacity, with modifications – such as the removal and taping off of desks and chairs – to ensure social distancing for professors and students. Large meeting areas such as Pierson Auditorium and the fourth floor of the Student Union have been converted into spaces for larger classes to meet.
While lecturing, professors will have the option to wear clear, plastic face shields to allow students to see their face and interpret facial expressions.
Faculty will be prepared to move in-person classes online if deemed necessary, and are required to be certified in online instruction, said Lundgren.
“Everyone has been working very hard this summer,” she said.
Changes to facilities:
Outside of the classroom, facilities from the Student Union to Swinney Recreation Center have undergone safety modifications.
According to UMKC Director of Facilities Operations Michael Graves, a robust cleaning effort will take place throughout the day, with midday cleanings of high-traffic areas and nightly disinfection of the campus using hospital-grade viricide. Cleaning kits and hand sanitizers are located throughout campus, and a kit containing a mask, disposable wipes and hand sanitizer has been provided for each student.
Furniture has been removed in many areas in order to ensure appropriate social distancing. Clear plastic shields have been placed at desks and around some cubicles in campus offices.
Elevator capacity is limited to two people at a time, who must face the walls as an additional protective measure. Water fountains are shut off. Campus ventilation systems have been set to increase airflow.
At Swinney Rec Center, membership has been restricted to students, faculty and staff; members of the surrounding community are not allowed back for the time being. ID is required to enter, along with a temperature check. Masks must be worn at all times, including workouts. While the fitness area is open, the soccer field and old gym are closed to group activity. The pool is open, but limited to one person per lane. The lower basketball courts, the racquetball and squash courts, indoor track and studios are completely closed to the public.
At the Miller-Nichols Library, work areas and computer stations have been arranged to promote social distancing. According to the library’s website, the building is arranged primarily for individual work and study.
According to Graves, technicians are working 24/7 to keep the campus operational.
“All of the spaces have been made ready for you,” he said.
Changes to dorms and dining:
Due to the close-quarters nature of the dorms, the rules are stringent.
Students living in the dorms were required to have a negative COVID test within seven days prior to their move-in date. Other than caretakers and those helping with moving in and out, outside guests are not allowed in the dorms.
Furniture has been rearranged for maximum distancing. Study areas and lounges are closed as the semester begins. Kitchens are under lock and key, though access can be arranged.
Dining areas have been reduced to 50% of their original capacity, with changes made to limit the areas where students can sit. However, meal periods have been extended in order to make up for the limitations.
Frequently touched surfaces will be cleaned often. Masks and gloves are required for all workers, who will be barred from work if exposed to or tested positive for COVID.
Students may only remove their masks while actively eating, and must immediately remask after they have finished.
All food will either be directly served or pre-packaged, and menu choices will be reduced to promote speed.
The days of self service, the days of open buffets are behind us at this point,” said Jody Jeffries, a liaison with campus dining services.
Dining services are moving towards contactless payment. This will be hosted on Sodexo’s BITE app. The only exception is the Chik Fil A location in the Student Union.
Reasons for return:
Many universities around the country have elected to remain exclusively online.
Administrators at UMKC decided to reopen campus based on two primary factors.
First, the university considered the preferences of students. In a survey over the summer, 39% of students indicated a preference for in-person learning, while over 60% said they’d prefer online classes. Over 4,000 students participated in the survey.
The survey results closely match the actual numbers, as 40% of classes will be in-person for the fall semester, with the remaining 60% being a mix of hybrid and online learning.
“We are trying to get our class offerings in the modalities that students indicated a preference in,” said Provost Lundgren during the Aug. 12 webinar.
Second, UMKC Director of Strategic Communications John Martellaro told UNews that certain aspects of UMKC’s mission would be “difficult or impossible to execute online.” Martellaro stated there are fields of education which require hands on, face-to-face instruction, such as classes in the Conservatory.
Sheri Gormley, the Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives in the chancellor’s office and a lead member of the Roos Return group, added that the blend of online and in-person learning “is designed so that we can provide the highest quality education.”
In case of infection:
As part of the webinar on Aug. 12, student health and wellness administrator Obie Austin outlined the procedures planned in case a student tests positive for COVID-19. If a student receives a positive COVID-19 test result, has been in close contact with someone who’s positive for COVID-19, or is ill with COVID like symptoms, they should remove themselves from campus. If a student receives a positive COVID-19 test result, they are instructed to notify the student health and wellness center within four hours.
The student can call the UMKC Helpline at (816) 235-2222 or the COVID hotline at (816) 256-2684 to report contact, illness, or a positive test result.
After identifying a positive case of COVID, a team of contact tracers at the university will coordinate with local health officials to track cases and notify at-risk individuals, according to a campus-wide email sent by the chancellor’s office on July 15.
Campus Facilities Management will deploy teams to sanitize locations where the infected student has been, following protocols consistent with CDC guidance.
Notice of positive tests will be posted on the UMKC coronavirus communications page, but the names and identifying information of individuals who test positive for the virus will be kept private, according to the same email from the chancellor.
Before returning to campus, students who test positive for the virus will be required to provide a return to campus certification from a healthcare provider. The certification must be submitted to the Student Health and Wellness Center for review, according to the UMKC coronavirus webpage.
Martellaro emphasized the university’s cooperation with the Kansas City Public Health Department to deal with cases on campus, and expressed to UNews that he was “fairly confident” situations could be managed.
Responsibilities of students:
UMKC administrators have made clear that all of the health and safety changes put into place will best serve their purpose if students adhere to the regulations and otherwise behave responsibly when away from campus.
Speaking in the Aug. 12 webinar, Dean Jackson emphasized the habits of wearing a mask, washing hands frequently and practicing social distancing.
“What I want to tell you is that masks work,” she said. “They work if you wear it and take care of it properly.”
Jackson reminded students to keep their hands off their masks, to replace disposable masks at least every four hours, and to wash reusable masks regularly.
If a student is found maskless, they will be reminded by instructors or other faculty to put one on. If a student refuses to wear a mask without a valid, health-related reason, they will be referred to the Director of Student Conduct and Civility for disciplinary review, according to Austin Obie of the Student Health and Wellness Center.
Chancellor Agrawal urged students to behave responsibly off campus.
“Folks, we can control the environment on campus, but students, you’ll have to do your role off campus as well. Please, no large gatherings or parties,” he said in the Aug. 12 webinar. “You’re going to bring it [coronavirus] on campus, and then we’ll have problems on campus.”
According to a UMKC coronavirus decision-making document, further changes may occur as the virus and the situation on campus continue to develop.