The University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii Community College are preparing for a school year unlike any before as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
UH leadership announced last week its goal is to reduce the number of people on campuses throughout the system.
“When UH announced plans for fall 2020, we expected that the state and the country would be in a better place with respect to controlling COVID-19,” UH President David Lassner said in a letter posted to the UH website. “We knew then that our highly modified semester would include extensive use of technology, and we also knew that we would need to be flexible.”
However, because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Hawaii, and hospitals reporting that intensive care units were nearing capacity, Lassner announced the reduction of “unnecessary presence(s)” on all UH campuses.
Classes with necessary hands-on or laboratory components will still meet in person as needed, but faculty have been requested to move all other components of their classes online, and students are advised to arrange their fall course schedules to be as online as possible.
“Given the situation on Oahu and the interisland quarantine, it was the right thing to do,” University of Hawaii at Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said in a recent email to the Tribune-Herald.
Irwin said UH-Hilo will begin its term entirely online — with possible exceptions for nursing and pharmacy students — because of the reinstatement of 14-day quarantines for interisland travelers that went into effect last Tuesday and a delay in getting equipment needed to outfit classrooms for simultaneous online and in-person instruction, or “hyflex.”
She has asked those teaching classes that require hands-on activities to delay those activities for the first two weeks, allowing the university time to reassess the situation and to give interisland students a chance to get to campus.
In a letter to faculty and staff on Wednesday, Irwin said students and faculty should prepare for some in-person classes beginning in the third week of the semester.
“It is important that we serve the students who have made an effort to travel to Hilo,” she wrote to employees. “These students are here because they need the classes we are planning to offer face-to-face to complete degree requirements, prerequisites and applied learning experiences. Many have also willingly spent two weeks in quarantine to be able to be here and experience our unique educational and co-curricular programs.”
Students who have already traveled to the island ahead of the school’s Aug. 24 start date will be asked to start their classes online, Irwin told the Tribune-Herald, but assuming the number of Big Island COVID-19 cases remains low, “we will ease back into some in-person instruction, with the physical distancing and masking protocols in place.”
Some students also will reside on campus, Irwin said.
“Thus, we need to have services available,” she said. “Supervisors are creating rotations in many of our offices so that some people will work at home some days, but so we can keep the offices open to serve our students.”
Irwin said she also has advised students that the university most likely won’t have a traditional commencement ceremony this fall.
“We are exploring online and drive-through options, and we hope to learn from the experiences of the high schools last spring as we make our plans.”
Hawaii Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas said COVID-19 has accelerated the school’s “capacity to adapt.”
HCC administrators have been working on a reopening plan throughout the summer, and have outlined a phased reopening plan guided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, proclamations from the state and county, and UH directives.
The pandemic has encouraged faculty to look at teaching methods that are “more technology-enhanced,” Solemsaas said.
“We know another outbreak could bring us back to lockdown, and so we want to make sure there’s some level of continuity to learning.”
According to Solemsaas, about 75% of HCC classes are already online, and as COVID-19 cases started to rise, more faculty have been leaning toward online instruction.
“Now, we do understand we do have classes and programs (where) hands-on learning is a key part in skills building, so we need to ensure if we do ask our students to participate in those types of learning, the areas have the appropriate distancing and sanitation measures,” she said.
HCC has approximately 400 classes, about 100 of which — such as the school’s trade shops as well as nursing, fire science and some Hawaiian study classes — will still require some level of face-to-face interaction.
The school also is working with faculty to develop responses to certain scenarios, like an outbreak in a classroom.
Additionally, Solemsaas said HCC is creating kits for students and faculty, which will include a face mask and hand sanitizer, to ensure students and staff have appropriate safety tools.
Lassner’s directives have emphasized that safety is key.
“If we can minimize the number of people that need to be on campus, then that should be the direction we should be pursuing in our plans,” Solemsaas said. “It validates and really supports the direction we need to go, given how uncertain this is.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org