ASU System Drives Toward In-Person Classes This Fall

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Arkansas State University System President Chuck Welch said Monday that the system aims to return to in-person classes on campuses this fall.

Welch said guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health will be used in the coming weeks to plan the return to campuses, including Henderson State University, which is joining the system.

Welch said plans will include reopening residence halls at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas State University-Beebe and Henderson State. 

“Our chancellors and their response teams have done a tremendous job guiding our employees and students through this difficult time,” Welch said in a news release. “Students have made clear they are eager to return to campus and their traditional classes. We want to move in that direction carefully with a focus on keeping everyone as safe and healthy as possible.”

With federal and state guidelines expected to evolve over the coming months, Welch said he asked each institution to consider multiple scenarios and plan to be flexible regarding local needs and situations.

“Safety measures for fall classes that we develop in the next few weeks may be very different by August,” Welch said. “We don’t want to rush with a definitive plan now knowing state and federal guidelines are being changed in phases. While we can’t realistically expect complete campus normalcy this fall, we will make every effort to ensure our students have the best possible experiences on campus under the difficult circumstances.”

Like other higher education systems, ASU moved classes online in March as the pandemic took hold in Arkansas. But by the end of April, it was beginning to consider a number of models that it could adopt for the fall semester.

At the system’s Jonesboro campus, administrators have already allowed certain labs and practicums to be taught face-to-face during its second summer semester, provided that those classes create plans to maximize physical distancing and meet hygiene requirements.

But in an email to students Monday, Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said the fall semester will not be “business as usual.”

“… [We] all understand that adjustments will have to be made. These changes will be based on the best practices for health and safety,” Damphousse said. “We will also be prepared to make adjustments and to have contingency plans in place should they be needed. None of us knows exactly what the fall will look like, but we cannot wait to start making plans.” 

Damphousse created seven COVID-19 continuity task forces for his campus, charged with overseeing various campus operations and making recommendations to the chancellor. The committees are required to complete their work by July 1. 

The ASU System said each campus would post updates about their individual plans throughout the summer and into the fall:

The Arkansas State University System, based in Little Rock, has about 40,000 students on campuses in Arkansas and Queretaro, Mexico, and online.