When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the United States in the spring of 2020, Florida Southern College quickly transitioned to a remote learning environment. This unprecedented action responded to what we knew about the SARS-CoV-2 virus at that time. We knew that it was being transmitted easily and rapidly through personal contact, that it had the potential for serious morbidity and mortality, and that there was essentially no native immunity to it. Given this knowledge, as well as directives from state and local officials, the transition to remote learning was necessary for us to continue to fulfill our core purpose of educating students during the final weeks of the spring 2020 semester.
As we head into the fall 2020 semester, the pandemic continues to disrupt our daily lives, forcing us to rethink and reimagine how we will carry out our work as teachers, as scholars, and as members of the campus community. The transition to remote learning in the spring 2020 semester was a stopgap measure. In that specific context, the move to remote learning served its purpose; it made it possible for students to wrap up successfully the final weeks of a semester already well under way. There is no doubt that the tenacity and resiliency of our faculty and students played a key role in that success, but there is also no gainsaying the fact that remote learning plays a very minor role in the educational traditions of Florida Southern. This is not to say that certain forms of remote learning have no place at the College. They do, even under normal circumstances. It simply acknowledges that experiential, engaged learning is the hallmark of the Florida Southern experience and that planning for a successful fall 2020 semester will require us to draw upon the lessons that we learned in spring 2020, to adapt our best educational traditions to pandemic circumstances, and to prepare ourselves for maximum flexibility in the context of conditions that can change suddenly.
Until an effective vaccine or anti-viral therapeutics are in place, campus life cannot return to its pre-pandemic patterns and rhythms. There is still much to be learned about SARS-CoV-2, and we must acknowledge that no plan can guarantee a COVID-19 free environment. The guidelines for teaching and learning, both individually and collectively, are grounded in what we know at the moment. They have been developed by the Deans Council, and they are based on a review of current literature, input from various campus constituencies, discussions with peer institutions and infectious disease experts, and the advice of the CDC and local community leaders. The overall aim of these guidelines is to create an environment that mitigates virus transmission, while maintaining the high-quality learning experiences that make Florida Southern a special place to live and learn.
In the context of this overall purpose, the guidelines for teaching and learning seek to achieve three major goals:
Our ability to meet these goals will depend on all members of our community understanding that taking steps to reduce virus transmission is a shared responsibility.
Members of the Deans Council recognize that enacting these guidelines will be challenging, and they have done their best to balance the tradeoffs inherent in such a situation with our shared goal of educating students to make a positive and consequential impact on society. While we are still learning about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we do know that these guidelines, when combined with the measures outlined in the overall institutional plan, can substantially reduce the likelihood of virus transmission. For this reason, academic guidelines rely on social distancing, wearing masks during personal interactions, following hygiene and cleaning practices recommended by the CDC, isolating individuals who test positive or have known exposure, avoiding high-risk situations, and remaining open to modifying elements of the overall plan if conditions change. Neither the institutional plan nor these guidelines respond to every conceivable scenario — nor could they be expected to do so — but they do provide a framework for reactivating campus life that is grounded in the best knowledge of our scientific and medical communities. As such, Deans Council believes that these guidelines and the overall institutional plan will allow us to continue to fulfill our mission in the safest ways possible during this global pandemic. Each of its members stands ready to guide the academic enterprise in the context of the institutional plan, and each sees it as a living plan, which means that they are committed to listening to and working with faculty and students to ensure that the plan is serving our community well and being adjusted when necessary.
To maximize healthy outcomes, the College will end undergraduate face-to-face classes on November 24 of Thanksgiving Week and begin remote instruction on November 30, which will continue through the end of the semester. This means most students will return home to complete the fall semester remotely.
Some graduate programs, such as the Doctor of Physical Therapy, will continue face-to-face meetings after Thanksgiving. Graduate students should consult with their dean.