The plan to return to face-to-face teaching and learning at colleges in South Dakota in August is causing great concern among faculty and staff.
Despite extensive preparation and a new mandate that masks be worn indoors, many university employees in South Dakota are worried that bringing thousands of young adults from across the state, country and world together in campus classrooms, residence halls and buildings will lead to COVID-19 outbreaks among the staff, students or their families.
A petition seeking to give students and faculty the right to decide on their own to teach and learn remotely has garnered more than 100 signatures.
Many are concerned that even if protections against the virus are present in classrooms and campus buildings, students will create risks on their own by living active and social lifestyles, gathering in groups and by not taking preventive steps against spreading the virus in their personal time.
The Board of Regents, which governs the university system, announced on May 1 that all six universities and two special schools in the system would return to in-person teaching on August 19 … and on July 22, they voted to require masks indoors.
Still, many are worried that it won’t be enough to protect students and faculty against the spread of the virus.
Regents CEO Brian Maher said he is comfortable with the safety precautions colleges are taking, including spreading out desks in classes, increasing cleaning and use of sanitizer, isolating anyone who shows symptoms and allowing employees with serious medical conditions to teach remotely.
Maher also notes that officials will keep a close eye on the virus once classes begin and will not hesitate to change course, including shifting back to online teaching, if outbreaks do occur.