October 26, 2021

Colleges plan for mixed reopenings in fall

SUNY Cortland will require face masks, will configure spaces to allow for social distancing and institute a hybrid of in-person and online learning when it reopens its campus in late August.

Tompkins Cortland Community College will do much the same when it reopens Aug. 31, and Cornell University and Ithaca College will reopen their campuses on Sept. 2 and Oct. 5, respectively.

Colleges and other schools across the country ended in-person classes in March as the coronavirus pandemic intensified, leaving students to continue their education remotely.

Over the past few months, SUNY Cortland has been planning how to reopen safely to students and in accordance with state guidelines, President Erik Bitterbaum said.

Last week, the school sent its plans to SUNY and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to be evaluated, he said. The plans include:

  • Requiring face masks or coverings whenever a distance of 6 feet or more from others can’t be maintained
  • Reconfiguring indoor spaces to allow for greater distance between people
  • Teaching courses in a hybrid style of in-person and online

“We’re doing everything we can following national guidelines, really,” Bitterbaum said. “We’re no different from any other college or business doing it right.”

The school will provide a reusable mask for every student, staff and faculty member when they return in August, Bitterbaum said.

If they do come to class the first day without a mask, a disposable mask may be provided, but after that, students will be asked to either attend class online or buy a new mask from the school’s bookstore.

Students could also face disciplinary action, including being ordered to leave campus for repeated offenses, if they don’t wear a mask to class or in close spaces, though these policies are still being finalized.

“We’re holding our students to a high standard,” Bitterbaum said.

As for classes, Bitterbaum said that depending on the schedule, half of a class’s students would attend in-person while the other half would attend virtually. The next time the class met, the groups would reverse.

Bitterbaum said the college is expecting a response from the governor’s office in early August as Cuomo watches for resurgences in COVID cases.

Tompkins Cortland Community College will also have a mixture of in-person and online classes, though specific details are expected to be worked out in the next week, said Deborah Mohlenhoff the associate vice president for college relations.

Classes will be flexible, depending on the student’s level of comfort, and should a similar shutdown happen to what happened in March, the school will be ready, she said.

“We acknowledge that there is still a serious threat from the pandemic out there” and it can get worse at any moment, Mohlenhoff said.

Those who do attend in-person classes will also have to wear a face covering.

Other changes at the college will include reducing the number of students who can live in a suite in the residents halls from four to two.

Mohlenhoff said the specific details regarding reopening would be worked on throughout the month and should be ready by the time students return in August.

Other schools in Tompkins County — Cornell University and Ithaca College — have also planned to reopen in person for classes on Sept. 2 and Oct. 5, respectively, according to statements from the schools.

Details for classes at Cornell will be finalized in the coming weeks but may operate, in-person, online or similar to those at SUNY Cortland with hybrid in-person and remote learning, according to the school’s website.

Additionally, in-person classes will have a reduced number of students who will be required to wear face coverings.

Plans for classes at Ithaca College were still being finalized, according to the school’s website.