Schooled Reporting on education

Open but different

Education | Colleges and universities piece together pandemic plans for the fall
by Laura Edghill & Ali Booth
Posted 6/03/20, 05:57 pm

West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said the only way to guarantee college students do not get the coronavirus at school is to “keep everything shut down until we have a vaccine and until it’s working.” But that’s not economically or educationally feasible for the liberal arts school nestled between the winding Monongahela River and Cheat Lake just south of the Pennsylvania border in Morgantown. Instead, Gee expects to see the school’s nearly 30,000 students face to face again this fall.

“We will open, but it will be different,” Gee said.

“Open but different” has become the prevailing theme among colleges and universities gearing up for a return to campus life in the fall. Deadlines for fall enrollment are rapidly approaching, forcing schools nationwide to release their plans despite a lack of consensus on the probability of a second wave of COVID-19 infections—or even best practices for campus essentials like dorm life.

“Some in our working group say start later in September—give the epidemic a month to die down,” Daniele Struppa, president of Chapman University in Orange, Calif., told The New York Times. “Another group says start earlier because it will come back in the winter, or people will get the flu and think they have corona. Everybody is making decisions with incomplete information.”

The lack of consensus has yielded several distinct approaches. The California State University system, the largest group of four-year colleges in the United States, announced its fall plans the second week of May while COVID-19 deaths in the Golden State hovered at a peak rate of more than 90 per day. Nearly half a million students across its 23 campuses will begin the new semester online with limited exceptions for courses in majors that demand hands-on training such as the health sciences.

A recent report by Business Insider revealed most schools are hedging their bets. Harvard, Stanford, and Yale universities all announced plans to provide instruction either on campus or virtually. A small but growing number of schools have said they will fill their classrooms again, albeit with modifications. Just last week, New York University announced it would reopen in the fall for in-person courses.

“I can’t pretend that 2020-21 will be a typical academic year,” wrote New York University Provost Katherine Fleming in a letter to incoming first-year students. “We’ll be living with safety measures and will have to be highly flexible so we can respond to a changing landscape.”

The University of Notre Dame announced it would begin on-site classes in early August and try to finish the semester by Thanksgiving. Students would go home for an extended holiday break that coincides with the early stages of flu season, as well as an anticipated second wave of coronavirus cases. Several other schools, including North Carolina State University and Houston’s Rice University, released similar plans.

Biola University in Southern California is preparing to teach classes in person until Thanksgiving, then send students home to complete the final two weeks of the semester online.

“We’re planning for you, we’re praying for you, and come this fall, we’ll be prepared for you,” the Christian school said in a video message posted on its website. Biola’s plan includes the possibility of prorating room and board and even discounting tuition should the school need to change course midstream due to a new COVID-19 outbreak.

Some students claim that they should receive tuition reductions for the spring semester that just ended. Discounted tuition remains a sore spot, with many colleges defending themselves against lawsuits over the hasty transitions they had to make to online learning. Other students may decide to stay home or even take a gap year in the face of so much uncertainty. The Impact 360 Institute, an Atlanta-area Christian organization that offers a gap-year program, has filled its incoming class, according to Jonathan Morrow, director of the program.

Colorado Christian University student Riley Newcomer said she is looking forward to getting back to campus in the fall.

“I’m just excited to see people again,” the incoming junior said. Newcomer is hopeful but unsure about the effect the coronavirus will have on her college experience, particularly in her campus dorm leadership role: “It’s tricky being a resident assistant and not knowing what to tell the residents because I don’t know the answers, and nobody really knows the answers.”

Associated Press/Photo by Steve Helber (file) Associated Press/Photo by Steve Helber (file) Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.

Call for Falwell to apologize for tweet

An instructor for Liberty University’s popular online division and a director from the school’s Office of Equity and Inclusion abruptly and publicly resigned after university President Jerry Falwell Jr. tweeted an image of a face mask emblazoned with a controversial image

Professor Christopher House, who also teaches at Ithaca College, posted his resignation letter on Thursday on Facebook, a day after Falwell’s tweet. House rebuked Falwell and cited an obligation to God, himself, and the people he serves to stand for what is just, right, and true.

“As an African American man and Christian pastor, I am horrified and appalled that the president of the largest Christian university in the world would knowingly and intentionally use images that evoke a deep history of racial terror for people of color in the U.S., specifically individuals who look like me, for the purposes of making a political statement to the Governor of Virginia,” House said.

On Wednesday, Quan McLaurin, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Liberty and worked at the university for nearly seven years, announced on LinkedIn and Twitter he was stepping down as director of diversity retention on July 2. Although he didn’t reference Falwell’s tweet in his statement, the timing and public nature of his announcement indicate a connection.

The image in question came from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook and showed an individual sporting blackface standing next to another person cloaked in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. The notorious photo caused a scandal last year when it first surfaced, nearly resulting in the governor’s ouster from office. Falwell tweeted a picture of a mask with the yearbook photo on it in protest of the governor’s recent order requiring everyone to wear a face mask in indoor public settings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Falwell said he made the jab at Northam on behalf of minority students at Liberty who would suffer from the governor’s proposed tuition assistance cuts.

Nearly three dozen black Liberty alumni—including numerous pastors, authors, ministry leaders, and even current and former NFL athletes—signed a letter urging Falwell to retract the offensive tweet and apologize. The letter accuses the son of the university’s founder, Jerry Falwell Sr., of making comments that “have repeatedly violated and misrepresented” Christian principles and asks him to “stop this infantile behavior and lead our alma mater with dignity as your father did.” The signers state they will no longer recommend the university to future students and athletes of color, and that they are withdrawing their financial support. The letter is currently posted in conjunction with a petition that included more than 29,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Wilfredo Lee (file) Associated Press/Photo by Wilfredo Lee (file) A memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Not liable

A Florida mental health provider cannot be held responsible for the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a state appeals court ruled on May 27.

Nikolas Cruz, who is accused of killing 17 and wounding another 17 at the school in Parkland, Fla., had gone to Henderson Behavioral Health for treatment off and on for seven years. The plaintiffs, including parents of some of the victims, sued Henderson for negligence, claiming that the clinic should have warned school officials about Cruz’s “dangerous propensities.”

But the judges upheld a lower court’s decision, finding that Henderson had no legal duty to the school and that any breach of patient-therapist confidentiality would undermine the nature of mental health treatment.

“Although there may be a special relationship between Henderson and Cruz and separately between the high school and its students, there is no special relationship between a student patient’s mental health provider and other students who attend school with the patient,” the judges wrote.

Cruz, 21, has pleaded not guilty. He faces the death penalty if convicted, but his defense team reports he would change his plea if offered a life prison sentence. So far, Broward County prosecutors have not expressed interest in the offer. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Fernando Vergara (file) Associated Press/Photo by Fernando Vergara (file) A family listens to a lesson over radio in Funza, Colombia.

Tune in to school

Radio transmission is experiencing a surge in use as educators look for creative ways to reach students during the coronavirus pandemic. Countries like Colombia, Haiti, and Chile are leveraging radio waves to deliver lessons to millions of children who lack internet connectivity at home, particularly in rural and impoverished areas.

“The radio lessons give children a space to develop their reading and writing skills and also show them that their teachers are still with them,” said Diana Lopez, an instructor who helps produce a daily radio program for elementary schoolers near Bogota, Colombia. —L.E.

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Laura Edghill

Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

Read more from this writer
Ali Booth

Ali is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute student course.

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  • TWH
    Posted: Sat, 06/06/2020 08:40 am

    Satan has specially-tailored temptations for all of us and puts more effort towards Christian leaders. The temptation to gain political standing in the world is great. In my lifetime, Billy Graham moved in that direction but then backed away. Perhaps God used Nixon's tapes and what he learned about NIxon's inner life to shock Dr Graham away from that. Several names come to mind today, and of course Dr Falwell, Jr is one. May God shock them back to Gospel priorities, as he did Dr. Graham.