'Adaptability' is key as San Jose State starts fall semester with online instruction

"We'll get through this together as Spartans." Here's what changes San Jose State has implemented before some students return to campus.
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The oldest university on the west coast is preparing to reopen with classes primarily online as the coronavirus pandemic keeps the San José State campus mostly empty.

The residents' halls at San José State University will welcome about half of the normal live-on campus populations on move-in day on Aug. 15. Days later classes will begin for the fall term and things will look much different for students.

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35,000 undergraduate and graduate students would normally pack the SJSU campus for the first day of classes, but this year the campus will remain mostly empty with instruction mostly online for the start of the new academic year.

There are some exceptions where in-person classes will still be held. A university spokesperson estimates 10 percent of classes - mainly science and technology labs and select courses in the arts- will meet face-to-face and be physically distanced.

This could mean classes are broken into smaller instructional groups to allow for more space and distance between students and faculty.

But if the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything it's even that could change.

"Students must continue to be adaptable," said Patrick Day, Vice President of Student Affairs at San José State University. "We're looking forward to their return...this year will be different, not question about it."

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"Adaptability" is the word on campus. The university rolled out its four-phase "Adapt" plan for navigating campus life in July.

It's currently in phase two of that plan: modified campus life.

As soon as you step foot on campus the changes are noticeable.

Dining halls are only planning to provide take-out foodservice and plexiglass barriers and physical distancing reminders have been installed in high-traffic areas like the student services center, where masks and gloves will be provided to students free of charge.

Plans are far from being finalized. Access to major parts of the campus community like the Marin Luther King Jr. library that the university shares with the City of San José is still up in the air.

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Inside of the dorms that will house 2,100 to 2,500 students according to the university's plan, face masks are required to be worn at all times except when a student is alone in their private room.

All students living on campus will be housed in a private room without roommates. Students will not be able to check-in guests to the residence halls.

If a student were to test positive for COVID-19 they will be required to self-quarantine inside of their private room for 14 days until they are no longer showing symptoms.

San José State has also set aside 120 additional single rooms for further self-isolation if needed.

While the health center on campus will remain open the university will not provide COVID-19 testing on site.

However, university leaders say SJSU is ready to respond.

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"When we receive a report or even a suspicion of a student that may be symptomatic, a student that may have had contact, we have a case management group that will quickly respond and make sure that we get that student to a testing location close to campus," Day said.

While some colleges and universities across the country are modifying the academic calendar before classes start in an attempt to limit travel surrounding holiday breaks, San José State is sticking to its traditional calendar.

UC Berkeley and Stanford have decided to end in-person instruction for the fall semester early, before Thanksgiving.

Berkeley will end in-person instruction on Tuesday, Nov. 24 (the week of Thanksgiving) with students completing finals remotely in December. Stanford, operating on a quarter system, will end classes on Friday, Nov. 20, and forego final exams.

San José State, however, will close for Thanksgiving on the holiday and the following Friday and then bring students back to campus to finish the fall semester. The last day of instruction is scheduled to be Monday Dec. 7 with finals to follow.

Of course, that too could change.

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"We're going to be paying attention to the public health department. We're going to take a look at what's happening on our campus and things can adjust," Day said.

The head of students said he as heard little about Spartans considering a gap year to forego an additional semester of online learning. He said most are eager to get back to learning.

Throughout the summer the university has worked to close the digital divide among students by acquiring additional WiFi hotspots that will eventually be made available to students learning from home who need access to stable internet connection capable of streaming hours of lectures.

In the spring the university worked to distribute laptops to those in need.

SJSU, founded in 1857, has been here before. The university survived the influenza pandemic of 1918 and is now working to stand the test of time once more.

"To the student that is having questions and concerns: first of all, we understand that this is different. There is no real playbook for this," Day said.

"We'll get through this together as Spartans."

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