Johns Hopkins discusses return to class in the fall

In this July 8, 2014 picture, people walk on Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

How do you bring thousands of students to campus safely during a pandemic? It’s a complicated issue they’re working through at Johns Hopkins University.

In a town hall event on undergraduate student life, university officials said there will be a lot of changes, such as mandatory safety rules — from mask wearing to social distancing — which will be put in place and enforced.

“We will have safety ambassadors on campus monitoring compliance for students, staff and faculty,” said John Hopkins Chief Risk and Compliance Officer Jon Links.

There will also be disciplinary actions if needed.

“We have processes in place — I hate to call them disciplinary processes, but that’s what they are,” Links said. “They start with encouragement and end with sanctions based on — for students — the student conduct code, and — for employees — the formal discipline process. We will be actively surveilling and enforcing.”

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He also said while there is no official policy yet, they are hoping once students return to campus in the fall, they stay there.

“We obviously would like to minimize mixing, if you will, between campus community and the surrounding community and the national community in terms of traveling,” Links said. “We may decide for the entire student body or residential student body that once you are on campus, we don’t want travel. That is yet to be determined.”

They have already decided to end in-person classes following Thanksgiving break. “If you go home for Thanksgiving, we don’t want you coming back and importing COVID,” Links said.

They also understand that not all students are going to want to return to the university in the fall.

If students don’t want to, or can’t remotely attend, there are processes to delay going back to class without any sort of penalty.

“For a newly admitted student, the process goes under the heading of deferring your admission ahead of time,” said Stephen Gange, executive vice provost. “Historically, our policy has been: You are allowed to defer for a year. I think that admissions is evaluating that option to see if students will be able to defer only six months given the current circumstances.”

Continuing students can request a leave of absence, citing the personal reasons such as not being comfortable returning to campus or having circumstances that will keep them from returning.

For students who do want to go to school in person and live on campus, there will be some changes.

The university has set out living facilities that offer private bedrooms with limited sharing of bathrooms, to allow more social distancing. They have also secured nearby apartment buildings and hotel rooms for any extra housing they may need.

And, when it comes time to move in, families are being asked not to come on campus to help.

“It’s a challenging space to navigate generally,” said Alanna Shanahan, the vice provost for student affairs, referring to the tight corridors and stairwells of the campus residences.

“Given the current public health guidance, we really feel strongly we need to limit the number of people in our residence halls,” Shanahan said. “I know that’s heartbreaking for many families and not an exciting decision, but it’s in the best interest in the health of our community.”

Though the town hall meeting is meant to give students a slightly better picture of how campus life may be when they return in the fall, the university emphasized that all decisions are still fluid as changes in the pandemic status will dictate changes to their policy.

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