No classes have been held on UNC’s campus since early March due to the coronavirus pandemic. UNC leadership have expressed hopes for students and faculty to return to campus in the fall, and on Thursday, the university laid out its plans to do so.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced various changes to campus operations and undergraduate courses at the UNC Board of Trustees’ meeting Thursday morning. Named the Carolina Roadmap for Fall 2020, the plan was shaped by five specific principles: the accomplishment of research, safety of the campus community, reliance on public health guidelines, flexibility of in-person and remote instruction, and ability to adapt if safety concerns arise.

The chancellor said fall undergraduate classes will begin ten days earlier than originally planned, starting on Monday, August 10. The earlier start and the elimination of fall break will allow courses and final exams to be completed by November 24. Students will not be allowed to return to campus after Thanksgiving in an effort to stay ahead of a potential second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“It will provide a way for us to reach our destination, which is why we’ve called it a roadmap,” said Guskiewicz. “We recognize we’re going to need to have some off-ramps that will position us to pivot this summer or fall should there be safety concerns, including the possibility of a resurgence of the virus. Those off-ramps will be important.”

The plan reflects the ‘new normal’ being promoted by state and federal health officials. Students and faculty can expect for community standards to be set in place that continue the methods known to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Guskiewicz said the requirements are still being developed, but the wearing of face masks, physical distancing and vigilant track of personal hygiene will be among them. UNC researchers who presented at the meeting indicated the university would distribute masks to students ahead of a campus return, as well as selling additional ones.

In addition, class sizes will be adjusted to ensure physical distancing between students and pedestrian traffic patterns within academic buildings will be clearly established. In order to accommodate smaller class sizes, Guskiewicz said more week night classes will be added. Faculty are being asked to prepare all classes for both in-person and remote instruction to maximize flexibility both for changes in campus operations and for students unable to return to campus. University employees should also expect staggered work schedules, alternating schedules and reconfigured workstations as they return in phases.

“If it’s safe to be on campus,” said the chancellor, “it’s best for us to be on campus and we’ll do everything in our power to make that possible this summer and fall.”

The announcement came one day after Guskiewicz and health researchers held a webinar with UNC faculty and staff, where leadership presented the Carolina Roadmap and took feedback. On Thursday, Guskiewicz sent a message to the campus community outlining the plan.

Despite these changes, the chancellor acknowledged at a media availability following the meeting that some students or faculty may still not be comfortable yet with in-person courses come the fall.

“It may not work for everybody,” he said, “and we want to provide options for students that don’t feel as if they want to come back to campus and [want] the opportunity to learn remotely. We’ll provide similar opportunities to faculty and staff who have specific needs and don’t believe they should be back on campus.”

To ensure those remaining away from Chapel Hill can still get a UNC education, Guskiewicz said the university plans to introduce an entirely online experience called Carolina Away. He said the program would be for up to 1,000 new undergraduate students, international students or students who don’t have the means to travel in the fall. Carolina Away will offer between 15 and 20 high-demand general education courses for students to take, as well as one-credit-hour group experiences. Guskiewicz said more information on the new program will be revealed shortly.

The closest return to campus will begin on June 1, as research operations at UNC will return in a limited capacity, said the chancellor.

According to Chancellor Guskiewicz, a website for the Carolina Roadmap for Fall 2020 will be launching next week with further details on how campus operations will return.

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