Coronavirus: Cal Maritime Academy approved to resume in-person classes beginning in May

VALLEJO, Calif. (KGO) -- As California weighs extending its shelter-in-place order, there are signs some restrictions are beginning to ease.

California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo says it has received approval from the state to begin face-to-face classes in their spring semester.

"I am pleased to report that as a result of the hard work and good planning of our COVID-19 task force and the academic leadership team, Cal Maritime received approval from Governor Newsom's office for a limited reopening of our campus to resume face-to-face instruction for the completion of our spring 2020 semester as planned," Cal Maritime president Thomas Cropper said in a letter to students on Friday.

Cropper said the decision was run through the Chancellor's Office and various internal entities of the Governor's Office, including the State Department of Public Health, who provided additional guidance on reopening.

Sarah Sanders' son Noah is a freshman at Cal Maritime and currently taking virtual classes as he shelters in place with his family at their home in Marin County. Sanders said she was shocked and concerned when she heard classes would be resuming so soon.

"It's weird, all my friends who have college age students have their kids for the summer and can keep them home, and that's not our case, which is good and bad," Sanders said. "I guess they're kind of a trial case. We'll see how it goes."

RELATED: Coronavirus: 6 Bay Area counties extend shelter-in-place orders through end of May

Bob Art, the Vice President for University Advancement at Cal Maritime, told ABC7 that the school is taking extreme safety precautions, and that when students return to campus it won't look like it did before. An email from the president to students tells students to "please be prepared for a different campus experience."

According to Art, cadets who plan to return to campus will be surveyed with a health questionnaire while at home and then given a health screening upon their arrival on campus.

Art said that each cadet will be housed individually in a residence hall room without roommates, and that meals will be grab-and-go or delivered straight to a students door. Everyone will also be health screened daily, including a temperature check, and need to wear a face covering when they are outside their room or office.

"Social distancing will continue in every aspect of campus life- so it will be quite different," Cropper said in the email.

In that email, Cropper said the initial plan was for students to return to campus on May 10. Face-to-face instructions would tentatively begin on May 13. And a planned ocean voyage would also continue and tentatively begin on June 10.

Art says that since Solano County, where the academy is located, has just updated the shelter in place order to May 17, the new tentative start date for classes is May 20- but that the date could still change.

RELATED: Bewildered high school seniors may have to do freshman year from home after being accepted to dream college

Cal Maritime is a small, isolated school with just under 1,000 students. Many classes are hands on and cannot be taught virtually. For these reasons, Art believes they are in a unique position to try a partial reopening. He said roughly 500 students are expected to return to classes this Spring.

Although Sanders had concerns, she realizes the school might be a good blueprint for others.

"I can tell you, if it doesn't work we'll really know it will be hard for these bigger schools," she said. "If it does work, I'll be excited."

Cal Maritime is part of the Cal State University system. Still, an official for the chancellor's office told ABC7 News that the reopening of Cal Maritime is unique and separate from the other universities, and that at this point it's "too early" to say when the other schools will reopen.

Jesse Melgar, a spokesperson for Governor Newsom, released the following statement regarding the partial reopening of Cal Maritime:

"The CSU Maritime Academy trains merchant marines and the maritime workforce is required for shipping and logistics. This specialized maritime workforce is essential to the California economy, as 90% of U.S. trade moves by sea. Nearly $500 billion of trade moves through the Los Angeles and Long Beach port complex alone - the largest on the U.S. Pacific coast - supporting roughly 200,000 jobs. The Administration has provided conditions that must be met for the Academy to resume limited in-person instruction for 513 merchant marine officer cadets after May 10, including strict, unique health and safety guidelines."

"This includes screening each cadet and instructor every morning, maintaining physical distancing, offering grab-and-go meals, using PPE and providing hand sanitizing stations. This is the only academy of its kind in the state and does not serve as a precedent for other colleges or universities in California."

RELATED: Coronavirus: California schools closed through end of academic year, Gov. Newsom says

If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.

Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here

RELATED STORIES & VIDEOS:

Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.