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UMass Amherst Announces Fall 2020 Reopening Plan

AMHERST — UMass Amherst announced its fall 2020 reopening plan, noting that, while almost all courses will be taught remotely this fall, students will be given the option to live on campus under exacting public-health restrictions. No students will be required to return to campus, and students will determine which option, taking courses while living at home or in campus residence halls, is best according to their personal health, educational path, and home environment.

“Students who choose to attend UMass Amherst do so not only for the quality of the faculty and the academic programs, but also for the immersive experience, which offers opportunities for enrichment that can be undertaken with a diverse group of peers,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “As best we can — and there are severe limitations in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — we will strive to sustain the community connections that represent UMass at its best.”

The plan makes clear there are inherent risks to joining a residential campus environment this fall, and it provides students the opportunity to consult with their families and decide what is best for them. Subbaswamy emphasized that “it is important to understand that life on campus will not be anything resembling normal college life.”

In announcing the plan, UMass Amherst joins a small number of schools giving students the option to determine whether to spend the semester on campus or at home. The decision to invite first-year, transfer, and returning undergraduate students to live on campus was informed in part by the overwhelming feedback from students that they want to pursue their studies on campus — and, indeed, intended to seek out rental units in the area even if residence halls were not reopened.

For students who choose to reside in on-campus housing or expect to spend any time on campus, standards will be exacting. Students must agree not only to the standard Code of Student Conduct, but also to a set of protocols outlined in the UMass Agreement, a commitment they will be required to sign.

Protocols for students include strict physical distancing, wearing face coverings outside personal living spaces, limiting social contacts to a minimal number of people per day, the prohibition of guests in residence halls, subjecting themselves to virus testing on demand, daily self-monitoring and reporting, assisting with contact tracing, and limiting travel away from the immediate campus area for work and/or emergencies only.

Health and Safety

The university will establish a Public Health Promotion Center to be the central coordinating and operational center for COVID-19 on campus. It will focus on the following: asymptomatic testing (symptomatic testing will be conducted at University Health Services), contact tracing, coordinating isolation and quarantine, flu vaccinations, and communication outreach focused on health promotion with public-health ambassadors.

The university is developing a comprehensive surveillance, testing, isolation, and contact-tracing program that students must comply with both on- and off-campus. All students, faculty, and staff will be asked to self-monitor on a daily basis for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to campus. All students returning to campus will be tested prior to arrival. During the fall semester, any student experiencing even the slightest symptoms will be tested by University Health Services.

Students living on campus who test positive for COVID-19 will have the option to return to their home to isolate for the appropriate amount of time, or they will be placed in isolation housing on campus and be provided with support services and a daily wellness call. Off-campus students are also encouraged to develop an isolation and quarantine plan with their family and roommates. The university will provide support services in a student’s off-campus location or home, but it will not provide on-campus isolation or quarantine space.

Teaching and Learning

The university previously announced an altered academic calendar for fall 2020, with a start date of Aug. 24 for classes. Classes will end Nov. 20, at Thanksgiving break, when students will move out of residence halls. Final exams will be conducted remotely after Thanksgiving break. Classes also will be held on Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day.

A majority of the fall 2020 curriculum will be fully remote, with only essential labs, studios, performances, and hands-on courses offered in-person and focused on the upper-level curriculum to provide seniors with timely progress toward degree completion. Some students who live on campus may have a fully remote curriculum, a factor they should consider in their decision whether to come to campus.

Classroom capacities will be limited to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Additional sections of courses may be added to reduce class sizes. Course schedules will be adjusted to increase time between classes to reduce interactive foot traffic on campus and provide time for increased cleaning of lab and classroom spaces when needed. Students will be encouraged to be patient and flexible regarding classroom assignments and course schedules.

Libraries are currently working on a phased reopening plan for restoration of in-person services and on-site access to their collections. Until then, the libraries will continue to provide access to materials through the Library Express service.

Residential Life

While all courses that do not require physical presence on campus will be offered remotely this fall, all undergraduate students who have reserved on-campus housing for the upcoming semester, and for whom there is space available, are invited to live on campus under strict public-health behavioral restrictions.

After July 1, Residential Life will communicate with students who have a current housing assignment about their eligibility to live on campus. Students who plan on canceling their housing assignment should contact Residential Life immediately to inform them of their change of plans.

Life in the residence halls will be altered to include pedestrian-flow restrictions, restrictions on group gatherings, and limited face-to-face contact. No guests will be allowed in residence halls until further notice.

Move-in for fall semester will take place over multiple days to reduce the amount of people on campus at any time, and students may bring only two family members or helpers to assist them. Students are advised to bring fewer items to campus this fall and plan for 12 weeks of residential time as opposed to an entire school year due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. Also, if COVID-19 cases spike in Massachusetts, the university may close down residence halls and send students home.

Students who either do not have access to the main campus or who are seeking a residential option beyond the main campus may apply for housing on the Mount Ida campus in Newton. All health and safety protocols on the main campus will be in effect in Newton, but the total residential population at the Newton campus will be limited by available housing to fewer than 500 students. All courses taught in Newton beyond essential face-to-face courses for on-site programs (such as veterinary technology) will be offered remotely.

Campus Life

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university is offering its immersive residential experience, which is conducive to students’ learning and academic progress, in a manner that is intended to provide safeguards for the health and well-being of the entire campus community. Given this situation, campus life will be a different experience in the fall, with all members of the campus community playing an important role in mitigating the infection and spread of the virus.

Most student services will be offered remotely, including the services of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health. The Recreation Center will be open, but there will be limits and restrictions on activities. The center will also livestream fitness classes through the intramural leagues.

UMass Dining will adapt its services to current federal and state guidelines for food service. It will offer new grab-and-go stations, online ordering for many of its retail locations, and tents for outdoor dining on campus.

Student activities will center on small-group, in-person events, and larger virtual events.

The complete reopening plan, including a detailed set of frequently asked questions, can be found at www.umass.edu/reopening.