Housatonic Community College
Three Rivers Community College in Norwich.

Connecticut community colleges can start offering certain types of classes Monday for spring semester students who need to complete programs, and state universities can start reopening campuses Aug. 24, officials announced Friday.

Community colleges would also be able to bring all students back on campus by Aug. 24, according to the plan announced by Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system.

Those re-openings will require development of detailed plans to follow the COVID-19 safety recommendations of state health experts to ensure social distancing, masks, testing and other measures, Ojakian said.

The CSCU plan would have on-campus classes continue through Thanksgiving, but then have only online classes and exams through the end of the semester. The precaution is intended to reduce the risk of students returning to school from the holiday with potential coronavirus infections.

Rep. Gregg Haddad, a Mansfield Democrat and recent co-chair of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, said having students stay home after the Thanksgiving holiday is to avoid “a lot of back-and-forth traffic” with higher infection risks.

“I think a robust testing plan… gives them the best chance to work through a semester without taking any extraordinary risks,” Haddad said Friday. He said that most public and private colleges and universities in Connecticut will likely take approaches similar to the plans outlined by Ojakian for CSCU.

Connecticut’s colleges and universities, both public and private, have an estimated 190,000 students and employ some 45,000 state residents, according to the report issued by the Higher Education Subcommittee of Gov. Ned Lamont’s now-defunct ReOpen CT panel.

The University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees hasn’t yet made a decision about how or when to reopen this state’s flagship university, which operates separately from the CSCU system.

Michael Bailey, executive director of the UConn AAUP that represents the university’s faculty and coaches, said the administration is continuing to look at several options and that a reopening decision is expected by June 30.

“We’re all trying to struggle with what might happen in the fall,” Bailey said. “Everyone is trying to project what the virus will be like at the end of August.”

Yale University is also planning to begin reopening the week of Aug. 31, but the university’s officials said there will be readjustments of the fall semester schedule in an effort to limit travel to and from campus.

The CSCU reopening plans took some staffers by surprise when they learned about it from reporters, rather than their employers.

“As a faculty member, I had to read about it in the newspaper,” said Lauren Doninger, a psychology professor and co-chair of the faculty staff council at Gateway Community College in New Haven. “There was no email… No communication whatsoever.”

“It’s hard to imagine that safety is valued if communication isn’t valued,” Doninger said.

Ojakian’s announcement “helped to alleviate some of the uncertainty around the fall semester, but many more details will need to be fleshed out,” said Patty O’Neill, a Western Connecticut State University professor and  President of the Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors.
However, she said, “details explaining how this will be guaranteed continue to remain lacking at this point, and I look forward to working collaboratively with the system office once those details are provided.
Ojakian said the reopening plans for individual institutions will need to meet the safety standards set by the governor’s ReOpen CT panel for higher education.

“The community colleges and universities will be prepared to pivot to offer fully remote courses and services if public health conditions warrant,” Ojakian said.

Many experts are warning of a possible resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic this fall as the nation’s economy and schools reopen.

“Our priority has been and will continue to be the safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Ojakian said in a statement Friday afternoon.

“Before our physical campuses are opened for the next academic year, each campus must write a plan that meets all standards outlined in the ReOpen CT Higher Education recommendations, Ojakian said.

Those guidelines include requiring that each college or university create specific plans for re-entry of students to campuses; testing of students, faculty and staff; contact tracing if students are tested positive for the virus; and requirements for social distancing and student densities in dormitories, dining halls and classrooms.

“In formulating these plans, institutions will need to be mindful that the course of the pandemic cannot be confidently predicted,” the ReOpen CT report warned. “It is also possible that conditions warrant reopening in August but the pandemic worsens in the fall to the extent that the Governor would order a new shutdown.”

was a reporter for the Hartford Courant, the State Capitol bureau chief for the New Haven Register, and has written for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Connecticut Magazine and other publications.

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