UCO Unveils Comprehensive Safety Plan
The University of Central Oklahoma is releasing its comprehensive plan to safely reopen for the fall semester as the U.S. education system grapples with the effects of COVID-19.
UCO’s plan is developing constantly as administration tries to cope with details such as social distancing and mandating masks.
However, an official comprehensive plan is being released Monday. It details the procedures and protocols that will be put in place in order to minimize the risks of COVID-19 transmission.
The UCO website is being reconfigured to include Q&A and concerns sections available to the community to address any problems or questions regarding COVID-19 and the current policies.
Adrienne Nobles, Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs, said, “None of us have handled this type of situation before. There may be a question someone is asking that no one has before, so we need to keep that open line of communication with our community.”
There have been many questions from the Broncho community on how UCO will be implementing changes and how it will directly affect plans for the 2020-2021 academic year. A large amount of the details come down to a case-by-case basis.
Through communication and support by their professors and advisors, students can expect to transition with a learning curve while administration figures out details as the semester progresses.
Approaches will vary among universities. For example, Harvard is opening the school only for incoming freshman and a select few upperclassmen, operating at about 40% capacity. Meanwhile, the University of Kansas is having all students, staff and faculty tested for COVID-19 before the semester begins.
UCO will have a multi-part safety plan that includes several policies intended to keep students, faculty and staff safe. These policies, outlined below, include mandatory masking, adjustments to the schedule and classroom sizes and more.
Face masks will be required in classrooms, hallways and public spaces in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. The university will provide every student a UCO-branded cloth mask at the beginning of the semester and will have a limited supply of disposable masks available if a personal mask is forgotten.
The honor code largely factors into UCO’s plan to keep the campus community safe and informed. Including the implementation of Public Health Ambassadors and rewriting the student conduct code to involve mask mandates, according to Nobles.
Each building has a mask station with signs indicating the locations for the distribution area. Information will be readily available for free for anyone refusing to wear a mask. If the behavior is not corrected, it can be considered a violation of the student code of conduct.
According to Nobles, clear masks are being tested but there is no update available yet. They have been ordered for language classes and as needed. Although face shields were considered, they are not CDC-approved as adequate protection for face covering.
Fall 2020 Schedule
The changes to the fall schedule are intended to support the overall health and safety efforts for a safe return to in-person instruction.
The semester begins Aug. 17. Fall break, Oct. 15-16 is eliminated and classes will continue during this period. In-person instruction will conclude Nov. 24, prior to Thanksgiving Break, Nov. 25-27. Quiet Week and class activities, Nov. 30-Dec. 4 will be conducted virtually and final exams, Dec. 7-11, will be proctored online.
This schedule is to help mitigate a projected spike in the virus with the onset of cold and flu season, and to help prevent the spread of the virus by reducing the time people are around each other after Thanksgiving travel, according to the UCO COVID-19 webpage.
Plans regarding class sizes and other measures to ensure social distancing and safety for in-person classroom instruction are to be confirmed this week.
Many classes that are being offered in-person will also have an extended classroom with virtual seats. Students who enroll in this section will join the in-person class remotely at the scheduled class time via a livestream. There is no additional fee for those who enroll for a seat in the extended classroom.
If your in-person class is chosen to have an extended classroom environment, you will receive an announcement via email, social media and the UCO website when the course is live and available for enrollment into the extended classroom.
When enrollment first opens, it will only be available to students currently enrolled in the matching in-person class. These students will have until July 24 to make the change on their own.
Beginning July 27, academic departments will begin manually moving students out of the in-person class to the extended classroom to accommodate distancing requirements. After this is completed, any student can enroll in the remaining in-person or extended classroom seats.
“There is no one size fits all answer. Always feel free to reach out to your professor and your advisor if you end up in in-person classes and don’t feel comfortable,” said Nobles.
The extended classroom option has been described in the UCO literature as “a classroom that traditionally would have a maximum capacity of 30 students might now only have 20 students attend in person. The remaining 10 students would participate virtually through the extended classroom.”
The university continues to offer fully-developed 100% online classes that provide additional flexibility and convenience for accessing coursework. These classes are unaffected by COVID-19, if enrolled in an online class, students can anticipate little to no changes in their schedules. Online classes are on D2L.
The number of seats available in all in-person classes will be reduced to allow physical distancing. Spaces in facilities such as the Nigh University Center will be used for classes to accommodate distancing.
Each academic department determined which classes would be extended or transitioned with an adjunct professor. The CARES Act has helped fund many of the changes made over the summer and fall semesters as costs were incurred, according to Nobles.
The Vista inquired into how the university is funding additional adjunct professors and new equipment for extended classrooms. The funding breakdown is coming from capital reserves, also referred to as “295 funds,” which are funds that have been set aside for future building projects according to Nobles.
Professor Health Concerns
Some professors are considered high risk individuals and cannot have their usually scheduled in-person classes. So some have transitioned from in-person to online over the summer.
It is handled on a case-by-case basis, but other professors have had Plexiglas installed in their classroom as an extra layer of protection between themselves and their students.
UCO is hoping to provide a system to “checkout” a hotspot and work in an isolated setting. This will be based on both user and university equipment availability, as students will need to have access to a tablet, laptop or smartphone in order to properly utilize the parking lot hotspots.
Nobles described the Wi-Fi expansion in April as another internet accessibility option. There will be a limited number of Wi-Fi hotspots available for checkout the week classes begin. Wi-Fi is available in the Library study areas. It is recommended that students use headphones when listening in open areas.
UCO also has expanded Wi-Fi services to the parking lots at the Wellness Center (lots 46 and 47), Coyner Heath Sciences (lot 17) and Math and Computer Science (lot 17). View the UCO Parking Map. Additional locations are being evaluated. Connections will be stronger closer to the buildings.
Nobles explained some of the technical changes being implemented may have a long future at UCO.
“These are big expenses in order to make access available through the pandemic. If it proves popular, it could be a format after COVID. One that will continue to work for the non-traditional student.”
The campus will be closed when finals and dead week arrive due to the schedule change. This means final exams will be in a proctored environment. Nobles explained the specifics of each exam will be determined by the departments as the semester progresses.
Decisions on proctoring software are still underway and are to be determined by the Academic Affairs office.
Transportation on campus is another item to consider. Nobles confirmed in an email the protocol for the availability of the campus bicycles.
“Yes, they will be available to check out, but the system will be different …likely online. Transportation and Parking is still working on the details, but will communicate to campus when the new process is ready.”
However, the Lime Scooters are a service of the city of Edmond and not the responsibility of the university.
If you, a peer, faculty or staff member test positive for COVID-19, the university asks you to call the UCO Department of Public Safety (405) 974-2345 or email COVID19response@uco.edu
By doing this, it triggers a member of the public safety staff to make contact and provide information on what to do next for everyone a person may have been in contact with.
It also prompts the deep cleaning process. Custodial spraying and sanitation will take place in classrooms the infected person visited. They will be reopened after the necessary 24 hour disinfection period.
“There is nothing to be ashamed of if you have a positive result for COVID. We will not share your name or information, but we need to notify and make a safe space for students and give them the right steps to get over the virus,” said Nobles.
Before coming to in-person classes, international students will be required to quarantine for two weeks. It will be up to them to schedule this period prior to Aug. 17.
The Office of Global Affairs will provide students a place on campus to quarantine at no extra cost. Questions about international student arrangements or procedures can be directed to OGA.
Residents and Dormitories
One of the main concerns for returning residents and their safety is the older buildings and the AC units transmitting the virus throughout the ventilation.
Over the summer, the dormitories and colleges received updated filters. The university invested in a more effective filtration system. Nobles is confirming the status on the use of ultra-violet light treatments in campus buildings as well.
Nobles elaborated further on the importance of social distancing in the dormitories due to the ventilation systems. She said this was the one of the reasons the ventilation was one of the first things handled.
Resident halls are disinfected more often than the rest of the campus. Two to three times a week, Deeper Disinfection treats the offices, classrooms and buildings.
The Housing & Residential Engagement office has been communicating with residents on how to handle the shortened breaks and early campus closure. Students are allowed to stay after Thanksgiving Break.
If students choose to check out before break, they will receive a prorated refund as long as housing is informed in advance.
If you have any concerns, comments or questions about COVID-19 and the UCO comprehensive plan, the website is scheduled to be available Monday. According to Nobles, it will be actively monitored, and a response to inquiries can be expected within a few business days.
This article was updated at 3:54 p.m. July 17.