Allegheny College officials on Wednesday offered Meadville City Council a glimpse of the planned adjustments they feel will allow for a safe return of students to campus in August and asked for community support in implementing the strict policies they anticipate.
Covering everything from COVID-19 testing for all students when they arrive to a redesigned semester structure, the outline covered nearly every aspect of college life — including new agreements that students and families would be asked to sign regarding their adherence to coronavirus mitigation efforts.
“We started out with several guiding principles, the most important of which was twofold,” President Hilary Link told council, “to protect the health and safety of our campus community — faculty, staff, students — and simultaneously to protect to the extent possible our local community of Meadville and Crawford County.”
Link described efforts by a dozen teams of Allegheny administrators to “look at every single aspect of what reopening in the fall would need,” from stocking up on masks, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer to determining how to handle visitors to campus, and even figuring out how classroom furniture should be rearranged.
The college’s approximately 1,700 students would encounter changes as soon as they arrived on campus, according to Link. In fact, their arrivals would be significantly affected: during a nine-day move-in period in August, groups of fewer than 250 students would return each day, all of them administered COVID-19 tests in the process.
The 12-week semester that follows would feature no breaks, Link said, with students leaving campus for the year on Nov. 20.
Students would not return until mid-February, at which point they once again would be tested for COVID-19. In between, the college would conduct intensive three-week classes that students attend remotely.
Mayor LeRoy Stearns said the fact that he lives near the campus added to his concerns about the return of students, as did his belief that students might not follow the college’s policies regarding coronavirus mitigation.
“Students will be students, you know,” Stearns said. “What kind of overlook are you going to have?”
Dean of Students April Thompson said the college is working on plans for enforcement, including the agreements that students and their families would sign.
“Students who violate policies, students who won’t maintain, for example, face coverings — things like that — will eventually be asked to leave campus,” Thompson said. Allegheny then would work with such students to continue their classes remotely, she added.
“Hopefully,” Thompson said, “the commitment they make to both the college and the Meadville and Crawford County communities, it will go a long way to keep people from doing those kinds of things that put all of our health at risk.”
Pointing to numerous places around the city and region where people already are not consistently wearing masks, Link said it was easy to imagine the college’s policies appearing overly restrictive to students.
“One of our pleas to our community would be, ‘Help us support this,’” she said. “We are going to toe the line really, really strongly and we’re going to hold students accountable.
“It just makes it harder to do when wherever they go, the rest of the local community is not necessarily following the same rules,” she added.
Plans for how to handle campus events, including athletics, are being developed, according to Link.
Despite the fact that applicants have not been able to visit the campus, which remains closed, since early March, Dean of Admissions Cornell Lesane said that Allegheny expects nearly 450 students to enroll in the fall — 95 percent of the school’s goal for the class.
Global health studies professor Becky Dawson, one of the leaders of the newly formed Allegheny College Health Agency that will provide weekly updates on coronavirus testing at the school, said Allegheny is preparing “for the ‘when’ moment” of a campus community member testing positive, not an ‘if’ moment.”
Link acknowledged that despite the elaborate plans, the college cannot control every contingency.
“We can’t wrap everything in bubble wrap and just feel 1,000 percent safe,” she said. “What we’re really trying to do is create as safe a space as possible, fully recognizing that we cannot create a bubble.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.