The University of Colorado's flagship university will bring students back to its campus beginning Feb. 7 and will begin in-person classes eight days later, school officials said Wednesday.
The university has been fully remote since early November, when coronavirus cases in Boulder and across the state were rising to unprecedented levels. That online learning has continued into this semester and will stay in place for a month, until students return to physical classrooms Feb. 15. Students can begin moving in by appointment on Feb. 7, though officials asked that they remain in their home communities for as long as possible before campus reopens.
"Unless the campus has to change its mode of operations because of the public health environment, (classes) will continue in that (in-person) format for the entire semester," said provost Russell Moore.
Beginning this semester remotely, he said, gives the school "the best opportunity" to begin in-person learning and stay that way. He and interim executive vice chancellor Patrick O'Rourke said that students and faculty were most frustrated by the ever-shifting statuses of the fall, a frustration shared by those in K-12 education.
The school had one of the largest outbreaks in the state within a month of students returning in the fall, and university officials meted out discipline to students who broke public health rules. They castigated off-campus students for holding Halloween parties and other gatherings, which resulted in law enforcement citing several people.
With campus reopening, even students who live off-campus but who spend time on campus will be expected to participate in CU-Boulder's weekly surveillance testing, O'Rourke said, though he indicated that not participating won't be a violation of the school's code of conduct.
That emphasis on holding rule-breaking students accountable won't change; they will continue to face disciplinary action from the school for flouting public health measures.
O'Rourke and Moore said the school had learned lessons from the fall; the primary lesson, it seems, is that students need emotional and social support. In press conferences toward the end of the fall semester, officials repeatedly discussed ways to hold events to engage students while remaining safe. O'Rourke said the school knows now that it should focus not just on the physical health of students but on how that focus "affects our population, mentally and socially."
"We're working very hard to think about the experiences we're providing to our community," he said.
Moore said the school had invested more heavily in dining and housing personnel and that it was "incredibly important for students to get together," which is "part of their development on campus."
As for the fall, Moore said it was too early to contemplate a broader array of in-person classes. Currently, CU-Boulder's course catalogue includes a mix of in-person, hybrid and fully remote courses. Moore said he was "optimistic" that things would improve between now and then, but he was also "realistic" and didn't want to get ahead of the situation.
Part of that discussion will necessarily revolve around the access to and administration of the vaccine. In the state's initial draft plan for who should get the vaccine and when, dorm residents were given mid-tier priority. But now, there's no contemplation for those students, many of whom will now not begin to be inoculated until the summer.
Still, campus will likely serve as a vaccine distribution center, both for campus and the broader community. Like every other piece of the distribution plan, though, that plan "will depend heavily on vaccine supply," O'Rourke said.
If Boulder slips and faces newly tightened public health measures, than the school will have to abide by those restrictions, O'Rourke said. Boulder and many other counties statewide, including most in the Denver metro area, were placed in the second-to-worst COVID restriction category in the fall as cases and hospitalizations skyrocketed.
"The other thing that's most onerous about level red is the personal gathering restrictions," he said. Under that level of restrictions, public gatherings are virtually prohibited. "We would have to adjust to that."