Penn State examining bringing back select student groups based on state guidance

June 04, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Based on new guidance provided by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on June 1 for institutions of higher education, Penn State is actively examining the return of small cohorts of students to campuses for the second summer session as the University is able to meet the governor’s requirements

“The decisions Penn State has made in response to the coronavirus have always been based on the best science, data and public health guidelines available, with the health and safety of our campus and local communities as our main priority,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “As we continue our deliberate and measured approach to returning to campus, we are taking initial steps to bring back select, small groups of students later this summer.”

Barron said that the University has surveyed deans at academic colleges and chancellors at Commonwealth Campuses for input on which student groups they feel would be appropriate to slowly return to campus over the summer. This will include some student-athletes in June, as well as some cohorts for which campus presence, at either University Park or at one of the  Commonwealth Campuses, during Summer Session II is an essential component of their educational experience.

Yvonne Gaudelius, assistant vice president and senior associate dean for undergraduate education, said a number of factors are being considered to help decide which cohorts are initially brought back to campus as part of a phased return.

“We are asking questions in a variety of areas including – do they need access to specialized facilities? Is it a tight cohort where there’s a benefit to bringing to cohort together? “What are some academic programs, some classroom-based programs that can’t be done remotely?” she stated. 

Gaudelius continued, “We are focusing on programs that are specialized, some that may require facilities that are only available on a campus, or necessitate clinical experiences, or programs that are dependent on interactions between the cohort of participants. For example, the physical therapy assistant programs where they need specialized clinical facilities and equipment.”

Barron said additional factors that will drive decision making include the group’s size, their special needs, the University’s ability to meet those special needs over the summer, as well as their ability to practice social distancing and capacity to self-isolate if needed. 

Gaudelius said deans and chancellors are being asked to provide additional plans on which groups they are proposing to bring back to campus, at which time there will be a detailed review and final approvals.

As part of Penn State’s overall planning process and working with University officials, Penn State Athletics will begin a phased approach to return to campus beginning June 8 with 75 football student-athletes. Student-athletes have begun a prescribed quarantine in preparation for their return to campus and will be tested and quarantined upon their return. 

Following CDC and local government guidelines, as well as tracking and implementing recommendations coming from the NCAA Sport Science Institute and the Big Ten Conference’s Task Force for Emerging Infectious Disease, the Penn State Athletics sports performance team developed in-depth protocols for the student-athletes and staff. Student-athlete feedback and concerns also were part of the development process. The protocols include wearing of masks, daily health screening and small group activities, as well as additional usage and sanitation regulations facilities, including carefully guided access to buildings.

All cohorts of students returning to campus will be required to follow University guidance and continue practicing safety measures, including wearing face masks in public, observing social distancing and avoiding large groups. The University has issued guidance stating that all students, employees and visitors to its campuses must continue these same measures, even as some Pennsylvania counties transition from yellow- to green phase.

Barron cautioned that these initial steps do not signify a decision with respect to the remainder of summer or the upcoming fall semester. “I understand our community is looking forward to hearing a more fulsome plan — especially for fall — and we’ll have more details and specifics on June 15.”

Penn State has been steadily working on preparations and scenarios for returning to campus and work. The University has already issued guidance to employees who may need to return to work on campus. For the latest information on Penn State’s response to the coronavirus, go to https://virusinfo.psu.edu/

Last Updated June 04, 2020