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Proposed Reopening Plan For Massachusetts Colleges Would 'Carefully Repopulate' Campuses

BOSTON (CBS) -- A group of Massachusetts colleges and universities have submitted their recommendations for getting back to a "new normal" to Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening advisory board. The proposal lays out steps to "carefully repopulate" campuses using a four-phased approach to reopening.

The framework starts with getting research labs up and running again, followed by a "cautious" pilot program over the summer where small groups of students come back to campus for limited programming.

Read The Proposal

That leads to a Phase 3 plan to "carefully repopulate" residence halls, dining halls and classrooms. It may involve students wearing masks outside of their bedrooms or grouping students into "family-like households" with those they share courses with in order to minimize contacts.

"I hope that we go in the fall in person on campus," said Payton Ahola, a student from Sherborn starting as a freshman at Williams College this fall. "Even if we have to take a bunch of precautions."

Classrooms would be reorganized to accommodate physical distancing, and dining halls could be subject to restrictions just like restaurants will be when they reopen.

Phase 3 will require "testing, tracing and isolation protocols in place."

"Access to testing across higher education is critical to repopulation of campuses," the plan states. "The expectation is that large numbers of tests will be needed for the higher education community."

The group says a "new normal" will be achieved only when there is "public confidence that the crisis is over," a vaccine or treatment is available or "herd immunity" is achieved.

"I was really excited about all the football games, getting to know people in my dorm and other classes," said Sydney Rosenthal from Natick, who is set to start at UMass Amherst. She said she'd be willing to wear a mask, get her meals to-go, and do whatever it takes. "As long as I could get to have as much of a normal experience as I could, I would be willing to make accommodations like that," she said.

WPI President Laurie Leshin is a member of Baker's reopening advisory board. She said educators have done their best to transition to remote learning, but the in-person experience is crucial.

"There are certain types of hands-on learning experiences that are really needed in order to have a complete education," she said. "College is not just about what goes on inside the classroom, it's also about the relationships you make outside the classroom."

The reopening plan does not list any specific dates for when students might be able to return to campus. It notes that most colleges don't need to announce fall plans until July 1.

"The most important thing is our recommendation that each campus needs to make a campus-specific reopening plan in alignment with these phases," Leshin said. "Just because you can open, doesn't mean you should."

The group says that at a minimum, each college and university should have a plan to return to campus safely and monitor health conditions of students and faculty. There should also be a plan for containment if coronavirus is detected on campus and a plan for scaling back operations if needed.


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