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Notre Dame classes go online for two weeks amid rising COVID-19 cases

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by Jonah McKeown

Denver Newsroom, Aug 21, 2020 / 04:00 am MT (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame on Tuesday announced a two-week hiatus from in-person class instruction, amid a growing number of COVID-19 infections on campus. Some alumni, students, and faculty are calling on university president Father John Jenkins to suspend in-person classes altogether and move instruction online for the remainder of the semester.

Classes began at Notre Dame Aug. 10, with more than 12,000 students returning to campus, all of whom were tested for COVID-19. As of Aug. 20, the university was reporting 304 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Erin Hoffman Harding, vice president of student affairs, said Aug. 14 that the “vast majority” of cases reported up to that point had stemmed from a single off-campus party.

Jenkins said in a public address Aug. 18 that if the current outbreak is not contained within the next two weeks, the school will have to send students home.

An online petition, created by two professors at the university, calls for all classes to be made available online for the remainder of the semester to all students, not merely those most at risk for the virus.

“We hope that the University can find a way to make campus life safe again. However, students should not be forced to take more risks until that is achieved. Those who wish to leave should be allowed to leave, and those who wish to stay should have their lives made safer,” the petition reads.

The petition also called for students who return home to subsequently be given a prorated refund of their room and board costs.

As of Aug. 20, the petition had garnered nearly 800 signatures.

A second, anonymous petition related to Notre Dame, entitled “HERE we are thankful,” began circulating online Aug. 20.

“We pledge our commitment to the greater well-being of the university by embracing the safety regulations put forth by the administration, recognizing that an effort of this sort will require the participation and responsibility of all members of the student body and community as a whole,” reads the second petition, which does not list the number of signatories.

“We also recognize the importance of a science-based approach to addressing this pandemic and fully support universal access to testing all members of our community that will both help inform behaviors as well as decisions moving forward.”

Notre Dame was one of the first major universities in the country to announce an in-person return to classes for the fall semester. So far the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Ithaca College, and Michigan State University have already moved all instruction online after initially planning to start the semester in person.

Jenkins said in a May 18 announcement that in addition to social distancing and mask requirements, the plan for the semester will include “comprehensive testing for COVID-19” and “enhanced cleaning of all campus spaces.”

Teachers have been asked to prepare to offer their courses both in person and online, so that students who are sick or quarantined can continue to participate, he continued.

Other Catholic colleges throughout the country are moving ahead with in-person instruction, with reopening plans developed in conjunction with local health authorities and national guidelines.

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas started the fall semester in person Aug. 19. The school has canceled fall break in order to complete the semester by Nov. 24, with finals week scheduled to be conducted online during the week of Nov. 30-Dec. 4.

Benedictine is requesting that all students quarantine for 14 days before returning to campus. Students arriving from a COVID-19 “Hotspot” as indicated by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), or from a foreign country, are required to complete a quarantine.

“Even though face-to-face instruction is the norm, we must be prepared to accommodate situations that will require students and/or faculty to be out of the classroom for some time,” Benedictine’s reopening plan reads.

Benedictine spokesman Steve Johnson told CNA that while the university is prepared to move online, “for us, that is a worst-case scenario that we are trying to avoid at all costs.”

“We have tested students and so far we are in the range of 2% positive,” he said. “We are getting students off campus and into isolation and quarantine situations quickly to help prevent further spread.”

At The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington D.C., president John Garvey has announced that only freshmen and transfer students with fewer than 30 college credits would be coming to campus; all other students will be completing the semester online.

Students who planned to live on campus and are no longer eligible to do so will receive a full refund for on-campus room and board, Garvey said.

All students returning to D.C. and residing off campus, regardless of the state in which they live or are coming from, will be asked to return to their District residences by Sunday, August 23 and to remain in quarantine through Sunday, September 6, the university said.

All classes at CUA will be held virtually through Sept. 5, with in-person instruction commencing on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

“We [at CUA] are watching other universities close soon after opening. We begin classes Monday with only freshmen on campus. I ask our community to take all precautions to stop COVID. We can stay open if we work together,” Garvey said in an Aug. 19 tweet.

A spokesman for the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio told CNA that although they hope to complete the entire semester in person, the university has a backup plan in place to move completely online if necessary.

Similar to Benedictine, Franciscan has moved the start of classes ahead to Aug. 24, with fall break canceled and exams set for Dec. 3-8.

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