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Board of Governors approves reopening plans for Florida universities

While safety is front of mind, the implementation varies from university to university.

Nearly four months after COVID-19 forced the shutdown of colleges and universities statewide, the Florida Board of Governors approved Tuesday each of the reopening plans for Florida’s 12 state universities.

The meeting, the first of its kind since January, featured Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees and the leadership of Florida’s respective universities.

Rivkees opened the meeting with a word of advice for the universities on their proposed measures amid a time when youth cases are on the rise.

“The goal is not to disrupt the entire learning process but rather to encourage personal responsibility and all efforts to provide for the health and wellbeing of student, faculty and staff while remaining open in educating our future,” Rivkees said.

The universities’ plans are based on a blueprint provided by the Board of Governors in May.

Many universities will utilize a hybrid model of instruction and share other similar safety measures including an emphasis on personal responsibility.

But while the goal of safety and education are shared by each institution, the implementation can vary from campus to campus and alter the campus experience dramatically.

“Individually and collectively, I believe our system is prepared to reopen,” said Chancellor Marshall Criser III. “For those who are concerned about what’s different, I suggest that this is for Fall, not forever. What’s not different is our commitment to deliver quality education for our students and instill a shared responsibility for the health of our students, faculty, employees and communities.”

Florida State University announced face masks and social distancing will be required on campus.

The university will enforce punitive measures against those found in noncompliance.

Pending the violator’s role on campus, repercussions may include suspension for employees or referrals for students to student conduct and academic review boards.

Additionally, all employees must be tested before returning and students may be asked to take a COVID-19 test as part of their Sentinel Surveillance Program, which aims to test a percentage of the student body monthly to detect community spread.

FSU will also limit class sizes to 25% to 50% capacity and will not continue face to face classes after Thanksgiving break.

“I’m a big proponent of individual responsibility,” FSU President John Thrasher. “I’m going to really really focus on that with our students when they come back.”

Thrasher said there will not be “mask police” but said officials will “take charge” when needed.

UF plans to implement a “Screen. Test. Protect Program” that focuses on social distancing, tracing and student services.

In addition to enhanced cleaning, UF will use a phased approach to bringing employees back to campus.

All students will also undergo a screening assessment to determine COVID-19 risk factors. Based upon the results, students will be triaged and receive a COVID-19 test.

All symptomatic students, students in clinical settings and students in research settings where social distancing is not possible will be subject to mandatory testing.

Students placed in quarantine will be provided with food, supplies, counseling and other services.

“We anticipate, in fact, it’s almost unavoidable, that there will be students who become ill during this semester or who will need to be isolated or quarantined,” said UF Provost Joe Glover. “It’s incumbent on us to ensure that they can continue, to the extent that they’re physically able, their studies.”

Glover added that UF is encouraging faculty not to require students to return to campus after Thanksgiving break.

“The University of Florida is committed in all that we do that it will be at the same level of excellence and effectiveness as it was a year ago before COVID-19,” said UF President Kent Fuchs.

The University of Florida and some others institutions including the University of Central Florida stopped notably short of explaining how they will enforce health policies.

As one of the largest universities in the nation, UCF said physically testing every person is not possible.

“There will not be a one size fits all solution for every person on our campus and we must be mindful of individual situations and how we can best support their learning and academic progression,” said UCF President Alexander Cartwright.

UCF will, however, limit building capacity and require face coverings in all buildings.

UCF will also conduct population screening to identify people who are unaware of an illness.

The screening will focus on students returning to university-owned housing, Greek life, student athletes and all symptomatic students.

UCF has reserved 52 rooms for isolation and quarantine.

The Central Florida area has been spotlighted in recent days for a spike of cases in the surrounding area.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulations suspended the liquor license of a popular University of Central Florida student bar, The Knight’s Pub, on Monday after what Secretary Halsey Beshears called “flagrant violations” of the state’s reopening plan. Thirteen employees and 28 patrons tested positive there.

Written By

Jason Delgado covers news out of the state capitol for Florida Politics. After his time with the U.S. Army, Jason attended the University of Central Florida where he studies Political Science & American Policy. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. You can reach Jason at jason@floridapolitics.com or on Twitter at @JasonDelgadoFL.

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