SUNY New Paltz to offer mix of in-person classes, remote-learning this fall

There will be on-campus instruction and housing at SUNY New Paltz come the fall, but the amount of both will be reduced, and the length of the semester shortened, to accommodate life during a pandemic. The bulk of classes will continue to be taught remotely. Campus officials released the plan yesterday, with the caveat that all of it is subject to change with the circumstances. That warning is reinforced by a “pause and pivot” plan to shift back to fully remote learning if state officials deem that necessary.

The semester will begin Aug. 24, with classroom instruction running only through Nov. 25 and final exams being conducted only after Thanksgiving. In-person instruction will be for some general education and gateway courses into majors, as well as “select laboratory, studio, clinical and equipment-essential courses,” according to the statement announcing the plan. Additionally, “all students, faculty and staff will be required to wear masks or other face coverings in classrooms, restrooms, elevators, lecture halls, common spaces, studios and labs whenever they are occupied by more than one person,” and must also conduct a daily self-screening for symptoms, and report the results. Campus visitors will only be allowed inside the Dorsky Museum, or to obtain audiology services in the speech and hearing center. Gatherings other than for classes must be pre-approved and “will be offered on a very limited basis.”

Dorm life will also be different. A total of 2,900 students will be allowed in the other residence halls, with priority going to groups including those using labs frequently, first-year and international students, and those “who face housing situations that present barriers to access and support for academic success.” Those students will have to report evidence of exposure using an app starting two weeks before they arrive on campus, which will be as early as Aug. 1 for international students. They’ll have to mask up in common areas and “do enhanced cleaning within their own living space,” using their own supplies.

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Awosting Hall is being set aside just to quarantine any campus resident who tests positive for this coronavirus, and will be empty at the start of the semester. Anyone who tests positive, along with all roommates, will be moved to Awosting where food, laundry, and trash services will be provided.

Visitors to any residence hall will require administrative approval; in this case, a visitor is anyone who doesn’t live in that particular dorm.

“The more risk you expose yourself and others to, the more likely we will be required by the state to return to remote learning,” warns the response to one of the frequently-asked questions. Communications director Melissa Kaczmarek, asked how a pivot to remote learning might impact tuition and fees, said, “Our initial fee structure will be based on the plan we hope to enact. Any material deviation from that plan will likely result in the adjustment of some fees.”

Not everyone is happy with the plan. Erin Connolly has started a petition to allow students to opt for remote learning. Addressing state officials, she writes, “You are already planning to allow faculty and staff to put in these requests and students deserve the same accommodations. Despite a plan to require students to quarantine before the start of seated classes you cannot control what students do after the semester starts,” which Connolly predicts could include parties and travel to New York City. She also questions the wisdom of allowing indoor dining, and whether campus air systems are up to the task of filtering out this virus. The call has gathered 63 signatures as of press time. 

Asked about the concerns laid out in the petition, Kaczmarek said, “Our plan includes ADA accommodations that will be made to support those who cannot safely return to campus. Non-health related work-life balance issues will be accommodated where possible.”