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Will students at Pennsylvania state universities return to campus this fall? It all depends.

If they do, will people wear masks? How will classes look? There are so many questions but no definitive answers yet as officials draft unique university plans.

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — Will students at Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities return to class in the fall? If they do, will people be wearing masks? How will classes look? There are so many questions but no definitive answers just yet, and even when answers emerge, officials say they are subject to change due to the ambiguity of the situation.

However, there is some guidance, in the form of a framework. The Board of Governors for Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education or PASSHE approved the framework Wednesday. It asks universities to develop plans consistent with these areas:

  • Expectations for students, faculty, and staff, which discuss how to mitigate health and safety risks
  • No institutionally sponsored travel, unless it’s deemed essential
  • Support for employee telework which includes remote instruction, if needed
  • Standardized processes for employees who request flexible work arrangements
  • Steps to be taken in case there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 on campus
  • Circumstances requiring a university to curtail or suspend face-to-face instruction independently of any action taken by a local, state or federal government agency.  

You can watch the full meeting on Youtube.

According to PASSHE’s website, “the framework is designed to provide flexibility for universities to plan locally while doing so in a fashion that meets systemwide standards. All 14 State System universities are making plans that allow for some form of face-to-face instruction in the Fall; those plans will be finalized in the coming weeks.”

“Every university in our System is unique and operates in counties with varying degrees of pandemic severity," said Cindy Shapira, chair of the Board of Governors. “It's important for us to balance their independence with a systemwide approach emphasizing safety standards for all students, faculty, and employees. Everyone who is part of our campus communities should have confidence that their health and safety is our number one priority."

FOX43 interviewed David Pigeon, a spokesman for PASSHE, about the framework.

Millersville University in Lancaster County is working to pave its wave forward in wake of COVID-19. Right now, there are three scenarios possible for this upcoming fall semester, according to Millersville University President Dr. Daniel Wubah. 

Scenario 1 

Under this scenario, the university would be fully remote for the fall semester. There would be no on-campus activity and the University would look like the second half of this past spring semester with online instruction, students living and studying remotely, and only essential employees on campus.  

Scenario 2 

This scenario would include a 15-week semester, with no breaks. It would run August 26 – December 6, with in-person classes ending by Thanksgiving. Students would leave campus for the winter break at Thanksgiving and the semester would continue online until Dec. 6. There would be on-campus residency for selected cohorts such as graduating seniors requiring experiential courses, graduating athletes, those requiring experiential courses and first year and transfer students. There would be on-campus instruction that will adhere to specific health guidelines. Essential staff would be on campus and other staff would be allowed as restrictions permit. Those who are able, would continue to work remotely. 

Scenario 3 

The third scenario would have everyone back on campus for a typical fall semester. There would be the usual mix of in-person and online classes, students would be on campus and employees would all return to pre-pandemic work. 

As for other state higher education institutions in our area, FOX43 reached out to Shippensburg University. A spokesperson for the school said officials will likely release its plans for the fall semester next week.

“As Winston Churchill said, ‘This is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps, it’s the end of the beginning,’ said Jamie Martin, APSCUF president. “Our hope is at the end that all of our students, staff, and all our faculty return in good health and that our campuses have the energy and vibrancy they had in March.”

“I think this is really good planning,” said Senator Judith Schwank (D) of Berks County. “Personally, I can’t think of anything that’s more important to the future of Pennsylvania society than the opening of our educational institution…. this could make or break us in the future of the Commonwealth.”

Before students can return to Millersville, Dr. Wubah said in a letter to campus that teams at the university need to answer some questions, like how will the university contract trace if there is a confirmed case of COVIS-19 and how can the school control high density campus spaces?

According to a news release, Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education oversees 14 four-year public universities educating more than 95,000 students. The State System offers more than 2,300 degrees and certificates in more than 530 academic areas. The State System universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester universities of Pennsylvania. 

For more information on the State System's framework for safely returning to campus, please click here