The University of Virginia today outlined core components of its plan for safely returning students, faculty and staff to Grounds for the fall academic semester and for continuing operations.
As previously announced, undergraduate classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 25, assuming federal and state guidelines permit. In-person instruction will conclude by Thanksgiving. Following the holiday, students will not return until after the new year.
The University detailed its approach to academic operations, student life, and faculty and staff considerations. The plan emphasizes flexibility for students and safety elements such as virus testing, masks, social distancing and thorough sanitizing of spaces. It stresses that all plans are subject to revision, depending on conditions or guidance from health officials.
UVA also launched a “Return to Grounds” website and related student resource site to provide up-to-date information on its plans; guidance for students, faculty, staff, parents and community members; and an extensive aggregation of frequently asked questions with more granular focus. University leaders said many details about the upcoming semester remain to be worked out, and the new site will be an evolving hub of information.
Public Health Measures
Every student, faculty and staff member on Grounds this fall will have to meet requirements designed to keep members of the UVA and broader community safe. Students and their families will receive details about these requirements over the summer and will be asked to agree to them as a condition of returning to – and remaining on – Grounds.
- Face coverings will be required in common spaces, and physical barriers will be provided in libraries and in public-service locations like dining hall cashier stations and help desks.
- All students, faculty and staff will receive personal protective equipment, including masks, and hand sanitizing stations will be installed across Grounds.
- Dining will be modified consistent with these basic rules.
- Libraries, labs, studios and study rooms will be open, provided they can accommodate social distancing and other health requirements. Anyone sharing a classroom, lab, dining hall, lounge or other common space will need to maintain a six-foot distance for any contact longer than 10 minutes. The University will enhance its cleaning of these spaces, including classrooms.
UVA is working with the Virginia Department of Health to create a COVID-19 testing plan that includes students, faculty, staff and members of the community. Parts of the plan are still being developed, and the University is still evaluating whether to test all students upon arrival. Some elements of the testing strategy are settled:
- Students, faculty and staff will be required to track their symptoms daily using an app.
- UVA will continue to offer testing to anyone who exhibits symptoms. Voluntary testing will be made available for faculty, staff, contract employees and students who are concerned and may not exhibit symptoms.
- The Virginia Department of Health and UVA will partner to help support voluntary testing of community members, and to effectively trace contacts of anyone who contracts the virus.
- Once classes start, UVA will test and monitor to assess the prevalence of viral infections, and will increase testing to detect asymptomatic or presymptomatic cases where examinations suggest a cluster of cases.
- The University has plans to isolate students living on Grounds who test positive, and to quarantine exposed students.
Find more about public health measures at the Return to Grounds website.
Academic Options and Flexibility
The University expects many of its students to return to Grounds for the fall semester, but it is introducing flexible options to ensure that students can pursue studies remotely.
“Regardless of where students are, our aim will be to provide all of them an engaging and enriching academic experience,” the University’s leadership team said in announcing the new options.
UVA also will provide the opportunity for students to be able to take a January term course and a course in the first summer session of 2021 with the costs included in the regular tuition paid for fall and spring semesters. The new offering is designed to allow students to spread out coursework that normally would be taken during two regular academic semesters over fall, January, spring and summer terms.
Other academic considerations:
- Large classes will be all online.
- Those courses offered in-person will include a remote option for students not on Grounds. Some offerings, such as practicums and courses requiring specific in-person experiences for licensure, will only be available in-person.
- Students will hear no later than the end of July about which specific classes will have an in-person option.
- Undergraduates, as always, may request a gap year or leave of absence for the coming academic year.
Find more about academic options at the student resource site.
Faculty and Staff
All of UVA’s Return to Grounds plans depend upon faculty and staff. As with students, the University recognizes that not all faculty, staff and graduate teaching assistants will be in position to resume in-person work and teaching. And the University said it will strive to grant requests to work or teach remotely or for other reasonable accommodations.
Requests for modifications will be prioritized for those who are at higher risk for severe illness, and those with a household member at higher risk.
Find more about employment considerations at the Return to Grounds website.
With undergraduate classes set to commence Aug. 25, UVA will use a staggered schedule over several days to welcome first-year students and others living on Grounds who wish to return. Students in dorms will be in double rooms by default, and will be able to choose roommates. UVA is asking students to confirm by July 1 if they plan to live in University housing.
The University will not have a traditional fall break. Students will receive more information from individual schools about what will happen after in-person instruction ends for the Thanksgiving holiday.
- Students in residence halls will be assigned specific sinks, stall and showers. The number of students who can be in communal bathrooms at one time will be limited.
- Social distancing guidelines will apply to all communal spaces. Doors may be designated for only entry or exit in some cases.
- UVA Dining Services will use social distancing and offer more options for takeout. Dining room seating capacity will be reduced by 50%.
- Other guidelines, including those addressing travel to and from Grounds, are in development.
Find more about about student life at the student resource site.
The University expects fall sports to take place, and student-athletes will hear from coaches about steps to allow them to train and compete safely. Decisions about fan attendance have not yet been reached, but will be announced when complete.
Community Engagement and Equity
UVA will establish a working group of students, faculty, staff and community members focused on issues of equity related to the Return to Grounds and the fall semester.
“As we prepare and then implement our plan, our work will focus on equitable treatment of the most vulnerable members of our larger community, including our students with financial challenges, our employees whose work exposes them to particular risks, and members of the greater Charlottesville community who are affected, deeply, by our actions and to whom we must be good neighbors and partners,” UVA leaders said in a communication to the University community. (Find more information for community members.)
The message was signed by President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs K. Craig Kent.
As have other universities confronting the difficulties of the pandemic, UVA has spent the last several months exploring options and developing plans that prioritize safety while preserving its world-class academic and residential experiences. Led by a Fall 2020 Committee, UVA consulted with academic deans, faculty, students, staff, community members, UVA Health and public safety offices. It conducted town hall meetings and surveys, gathered input from parents and reviewed strategies developed by peer institutions.
For more information about UVA’s plans, visit the Return to Grounds website.