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School back in session? UNC Systems campuses expected to reopen for fall semester

“I expect to reopen our campuses for the Fall 2020 Semester and look forward to welcoming our faculty and students back," Interim President Bill Roper said.
Credit: AP
People remove belongings on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The UNC system announced Tuesday that it would be instructing students to return to their permanent address unless granted an exception to remain in university housing due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

GREENSBORO, N.C. — UNC System Interim President Bill Roper said Wednesday he expects to reopen campuses in the fall.

He said school leaders and staff are working closely with chancellors to move forward with a plan.

Roper issued the following statement:

“Recent data in North Carolina are showing positive trends that suggest our collective efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19 are paying off.

“Our institutions have done a remarkable job serving their students during this time of crisis. Our speedy adaptation to remote teaching and learning was a necessary and invaluable step to preserve the continuity of our students’ academic pursuits while protecting health and safety. But for many in the UNC System, digital learning technologies simply cannot be a long-term substitute for the facilities and community that our campuses provide. The majority of our faculty and students need access to our libraries, labs, classrooms, and medical and agriculture facilities to fully engage with their research, teaching, learning, and service work.

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“We are optimistically seeing indications of improvement and hopeful that this will continue. But these trends will continue only if we stay focused and diligent, which we must and will do. North Carolina will likely have improved capacity for tracking student exposure and greater access to the tools, materials, and supplies that can help minimize the virus’s threat.

“I expect to reopen our campuses for the Fall 2020 Semester and look forward to welcoming our faculty and students back to their classrooms and labs this fall. To do so, we are working closely with our chancellors to chart a course forward.

“Each and every step the UNC System takes will continue to prioritize health and safety. Until a vaccine is developed, many members of our community may not be able to risk teaching or attending in-person classes. The UNC System recognizes the needs of our faculty and staff; our older, non-traditional students; or the members of our community with underlying health concerns.

“We must and we will consider steps to protect these vulnerable populations.

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“Our chancellors will have flexibility to determine what local steps they need to take to protect all students, faculty and staff, especially high-risk populations, both on campus and off. They will have the ability to put unique precautions in place.

“As examples, some institutions might consider staggered or shortened academic calendars, while others may take action to reduce student density in campus housing and classrooms. Our plans will ensure that students and parents have the tools they need to stay fully engaged with their home institution, safely and with confidence.

“I anticipate that operations at each institution will not be the “normal” we were all used to prior to COVID-19. But, working together, we will all eventually see our 17 campuses once again operating at full capacity, serving as North Carolina’s most vital hubs for teaching, research, and service. I am confident that they will be more vibrant and more critical to our state than ever before.

“Above all, our steps forward will be contingent on what we discover through ongoing monitoring of infection rates and North Carolina’s testing and treatment capacity. We will continue to follow the advice of the nation’s infectious disease experts and our own experts at UNC Health. We will remain in frequent contact with Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of NC Department of Health and Human Services. And we will continue to coordinate our operations with Governor Cooper’s executive orders.

“Our efforts to mitigate the pandemic’s threat have been successful because our actions in March were swift and comprehensive. The continued success of our effort now depends on approaching our next moves forward with caution, optimism, and precision.”

The fall 2020 semester is expected to begin Aug. 18.


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