USF reopening plan approved, class schedules to be finalized

The deadline for canceling nonrefundable housing contracts has been extended until after course schedules are available.
USF's phased reopening plan was approved Tuesday. Students wishing to live on campus can now wait until after they have their class schedules to cancel their housing contracts without penalty. BRONTE WITTPENN   |   Times
USF's phased reopening plan was approved Tuesday. Students wishing to live on campus can now wait until after they have their class schedules to cancel their housing contracts without penalty. BRONTE WITTPENN | Times [ Times (2018) ]
Published June 24, 2020|Updated June 24, 2020

The Florida Board of Governors unanimously approved the University of South Florida’s four-phase reopening plan on Tuesday, and students are weeks away from finding out how many of their classes will be in person, online or some combination of the two.

Related: RELATED: USF Trustees Approve Plan to Reopen Campuses Masks Will Be Required in Enclosed Areas

In the meantime, the university said it would delay the deadline by which students can cancel their housing contracts and possibly be refunded their deposits.

Demand was high for the university’s residence halls, with more than 7,000 applications for 6,300 beds, and the university sent out a contract addendum to all who applied. In spring, the residence halls remained open after classes moved online, and university officials said they intend to keep the residence halls open through the next year because of their risk mitigation plan. The addendum referenced changes in living expectations and said that if residence halls close because of coronavirus concerns, the university would not refund student payments. Students had until July 1 to cancel their contracts without penalty.

Some students and parents took to social media to complain that they would be bearing the cost risk of a possible closure. Multiple petitions circulated online, and they garnered more than 1,200 signatures.

Related: RELATED: USF Won't Refund Housing Costs If Virus Causes Campuses to Close Again

USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said course schedules should be available by the second or third week of July. Students who have exclusively online classes may cancel their contracts with no penalty until Aug. 1.

“At least they can make a decision in a fully informed way,” Wilcox said.

College deans were sent guidelines at the beginning of June for finalizing their course schedules with faculty and staff by June 26. The guidelines outline options that include solely face-to-face instruction, solely online instruction and a hybrid of the two, which could include staggered scheduling of in-person courses. The guidelines prioritize face-to-face instruction for classes that involve experiential learning.

Students would not be required to register for face-to-face classes in the fall if they didn’t want to, they say.

The guidelines also state that faculty and staff members considered at high-risk for contracting the coronavirus, or those living with high-risk individuals, should not be required to teach face-to-face classes in the fall. Being older than 65 alone does not qualify as a disability requiring accommodation, the plan says, and those with generalized concerns “unrelated to the employee’s own health or dependent/elder care circumstances” should use regular leave and assignment policies.

The plan requires classes with more than 100 students to be conducted virtually, while those with 50 to 100 students would be recommended for virtual delivery.

The provost sent further guidelines after meeting with college deans.

“We know that many students, with the support of their parents, want to have face-to-face classroom experiences (and a modified campus life) with the confidence that USF has fully implemented protocols and practices to mitigate infection,” the guidelines state. “This is especially true for freshmen, whose final term of high school experience was disappointing.”

The updated guidelines also recommend breaking up classes larger than 100 into smaller sections that could meet face-to-face. And no fewer than 80 percent of the courses offered in-person in the fall of 2019 should be in-person this fall, they said.

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Prior to the pandemic, 30 percent of course offerings were online, Wilcox said. The guidelines are not requirements, but recommendations that not every college and campus can meet due to space limitations, he said. Some nontraditional spaces, such as rooms in the Marshall Student Center, will be used to hold classes, he said.

“We don’t want to simply abandon all face-to-face classes,” he said. “It’s difficult to teach piano online. It’s difficult to teach ballet online or do labs online.”

Each of the 13 colleges at USF must submit its plan to the provost’s office for review by Friday.

“The very worst thing we could do is over-promise and under-deliver,” Wilcox said.

The university is monitoring public health data and intends to move cautiously between phases of the plan, he said.

“Things can change very quickly,” he said. “The plan, which was approved today, may have to change tomorrow.”

Any substantive change to the reopening plan would require approval by the Board of Governors. The Board approved each of the 12 state universities plans on Tuesday.

NOTE: This story has been updated from an earlier version.

Related: RELATED: Here's How Florida's Large Universities Are Planning to Reopen