A coalition of Maine colleges and universities released guidelines Thursday for how they will make decisions about re-opening this fall, including how and when an in-person return to campus could happen and what health concerns will have to be considered.

The eight-page framework compiled by a working group of higher education leaders from around the state provides common principles that will guide Maine’s 38 colleges and universities as they start to make individual decisions about how and when to re-open following mass shutdowns because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dannel P. Malloy, chancellor of the University of Maine System Photo by Bob O’Connor, courtesy of UMaine

“We’re very anxious to work with civil authorities, with the government to make sure we safely deliver to our students the education they need,” said University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy. “Obviously a lot has changed since March 12 when universities en masse announced they would convert to online learning.

“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves; however, there are a large number of students who need a classroom experience and desire a classroom experience and we want to be able to deliver that experience if we can do that in an appropriately safe way for faculty, staff and students.”

The guidance released by the colleges and universities includes considerations for in-person or other modes of learning, with suggestions the schools consider calendar and scheduling adjustments, including phased returns to campus and adjustments to semester breaks and end dates.

Returns could vary by student group, with select groups such as athletes, in-state, out-of-state, first-year and graduate students returning at different times. Face coverings, social distancing when possible and supplies of personal protective equipment are also listed.

The schools are also looking at remote options and safety procedures for major events like orientations, convocations, speakers and performances.

In addition, the framework offers guidelines for how to monitor and respond to health concerns associated with COVID-19. That includes evaluating the potential for widespread screening and testing of students, faculty and staff at re-opening and resources for contact tracing, isolation and quarantine if needed.

The framework also calls for transparent communication, collaboration with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and state government, and for schools to provide equal opportunities for students who cannot or are not ready to return to campus.

Joan Ferrini-Mundy, president of the University of Maine, said her campus is in the midst of extensive planning but hopes and expects to bring all students back for face-to-face instruction while adhering to Maine CDC guidelines and offering flexibility for students who need it.

“Having students together on campus is in many ways a critical part of the college experience,” Ferrini-Mundy said.

Planning for various scenarios will likely add to pandemic-related expenses for campuses, which are also looking at financial contingencies and ongoing expenses as part of their preparation.

The University of Maine System so far has lost between $25 million and $30 million because of the pandemic, and while some of that money has been offset by federal relief funds, Malloy said, expenses are likely to increase as the system considers things like virus testing and stepped-up cleaning protocols this fall.

“All that will come with some expense,” he said. “However, the biggest expense will be if we don’t meet educational needs and fail to properly prepare the workforce of the future. That would be a far bigger loss.”


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