Gannon University announced Wednesday that fall semester classes for the 2020-2021 academic year will begin Monday, Aug. 10, and will conclude in time for the Thanksgiving break.
Doug Oathout, Gannon’s chief marketing and communications officer, said in an email that both the Erie and Ruskin campuses will be instituting health and safety reforms in compliance with guidance rules set by the health departments of Erie and Hillsborough counties, from the states of Pennsylvania and Florida, and from the Centers for Disease Control.
Some of the major changes that will be occurring include the mandatory wearing of masks in classrooms and in shared common spaces, enforced social distancing, the use of thermal scanners and thermometers to check temperatures, reduced and changed class sizes and times, increased cleaning and enforcement of hygiene and adjusted dining service situations.
In the statement, the university also said that there would not be a fall break, and that finals would take place between Nov. 18 and Nov. 24. The final day of classes would be Nov. 16, with a study day set for Nov. 17.
Gannon said that first-year students will move on to the Erie campus between Tuesday, Aug. 4, and Wednesday, Aug. 5. Returning students will be moving back in primarily between Thursday, Aug. 6, and Sunday, Aug. 9.
Class schedules and methods of delivery will also change, including potentially changing class locations on campus, limiting section sizes and offering alternative delivery formats.
Events and large gatherings at the Erie campus will fluctuate in size and time to ensure gathering-size limitations are met, following guidelines set by the state. Currently, Erie County sits in the yellow phase, but once moved to the green phase, gatherings of up to 250 people practicing social distancing will be permitted.
The university said that these broad changes, as well as many others, were made to reduce the risk of COVID-19 being transmitted or brought to campus over a potential fall break or Thanksgiving break. The other stated goal by the university is to ensure that the best possible educational environment is set, and potential for academic continuity is met for students.
Students reacting to the news exhibited frustration, but also could see why the changes were made.
Lily Noble, a junior sport and exercise science major, said that she understood why the university is taking the approach that was unveiled Wednesday.
“But I’m disappointed over the no fall break decision because that’s when I get to reset and finish out the semester,” she said.
Noble also wondered how class sizes and the schedules for students might change.
Phillip Vargo, a senior business administration major, agreed with the university’s decision to start early.
“The decision seems to account for traveling over breaks and emphasizes social distancing and proper facial coverings,” Vargo said. “It’s evident this decision was calculated and well-thought out.”
Vargo also said that with early semester starting and ending dates becoming a trend with other schools and universities across the country, it was no surprise Gannon followed. He said he believes other schools will enact similar plans.
Claudia Herrero, a junior public service and global affairs major, said regardless of the circumstances, she can’t wait to be back on campus.
“I miss being around my friends and my Gannon community,” Herrero said. “I feel like we will be able to adapt and overcome the situation slowly but surely.”
David Thompson, a junior criminal justice major, said while he understood the plan and felt long-term thought was put into it, he disagreed with the timing of Wednesday’s announcement.
“By waiting until now, this will ruin a lot of vacations for families and it’s going to force some students to miss the first week,” he said.
The university will ask all students, faculty and staff members in Ruskin and Erie to complete a wellness check questionnaire either on paper or via app on a daily basis to determine if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or have been anywhere where a high number of COVID-19 cases had been reported.
In addition, all students, faculty and staff will undergo temperature screening via thermal imaging or no-touch thermometers. Anyone with a temperature high than 100.4 degrees will not be permitted to attend class or stay at work.
Testing also will be required for anyone showing signs or symptoms of the virus as well as those who have had exposure risks. In addition, tests will be made available to those who request them.
Anyone with questions or concerns about the plan should visit https://www.gannon.edu/questions-or-comments/.