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Universities Plan for Opening in Fall

June 10, 2020

Calvin University, Dordt University, The King's University, Kuyper College, Redeemer University, and Trinity Christian College — all Christian Reformed Church in North America-related institutions — have made plans and are hoping to be open to welcome students back to campus this fall.

For the most part, these institutions closed in-person classes and their campuses when the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across North America in March.

Calvin University

As it aims to open for classes, Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is partnering with the health-care testing company Helix Diagnostics so that Calvin will have access to 5,000 tests, ensuring that all faculty, staff, and students will be tested and screened for COVID-19 as they return to campus. This will ensure that anyone who tests positive will receive proper care before integrating with others on campus.

“At Calvin University, our goal is to demonstrate that we are willing to adapt to the conditions, act quickly, and do what it takes for a safe and healthy return to learning on our campus,” said Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin University. “We recognize that reliable and timely access to testing for infection is an essential component of our overall strategy.”

While most of the 5,000 tests will be used for the initial screening, the remainder will be used over the balance of the school year to test members of the community who are symptomatic and will help support the university’s contact-tracing efforts.

Le Roy also serves as chair of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities and says that this approach could be an effective model for others across the state.

“We believe this approach provides a pathway for colleges and universities similar to Calvin . . . schools that have smaller campus populations [than those of large universities], smaller class sizes, a nimble ability to implement campus-wide changes quickly, and strong collaborative community relationships.”

Calvin has also created a cross-divisional Safe Return Team (SRT) and four working groups that are responsible for making recommendations toward achieving the goal of returning safely to campus in the fall. These groups include Instruction and the Classroom, Lab, and Studio; Health Maintenance; the Employee Experience’ and the Campus Experience, Alumni, and External Communities. Recommendations from the working groups will be considered by the SRT, and all decisions will be communicated to the campus community every two weeks.

In the next couple of weeks, Calvin’s current Coronavirus Information Center website will be updated and revised with more details about the work of this team.

While Calvin moved classes online back in March for the remainder of the spring semester, it did have about 200 students that remained living on campus, so this past spring provided a testing ground for the school and resulted in much learning.

With the nearly 200 students living on campus through the end of the semester and over 120 essential workers reporting for on-campus responsibilities, Calvin was able to pilot a number of programs, and in the process, discovered what worked well and what could be improved upon moving forward.

Redeemer University

Meanwhile, Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ont., is on track to open its dormitories and classrooms to students for the upcoming semester.

“At this point in time, we are planning to begin the new academic year this fall, in person and on campus despite many uncertainties,” said Robert J. Graham, Redeemer’s president, in a letter to students.

But if new cases of the virus, which have been leveling off, begin to spike and spread more widely again, the school has plans for that as well.

“In the event that being on campus is not possible, we are making contingency plans to ensure that all students can start the term on time and are ready to transition to in-person learning smoothly and quickly as soon as public health and government regulations allow,” said Graham.

Trinity Christian College

Kurt Dykstra, president of Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., said Trinity is planning and expecting to welcome students in person to campus this fall and will do so in a way that incorporates public health measures endorsed by governmental authorities and medical experts.

“While we are zealous to be back on campus and are working to make that happen. . . . Nothing is more important than the safety of those on our campus. . . . And as the facts change, Trinity will adapt too.”

Dykstra said Trinity will pay close attention to and follow the guidance of Restore Illinois, the plan for reopening the state of Illinois.

“It provides useful guidance that will help to inform our campus planning and preparation,” said Dykstra. As part of the effort to determine how best to handle reopening the college, Dykstra has participated in multiple conferences with leaders of other institutions and organizations that have focused on safely getting college campuses back to delivering in-person, on-campus education.

"As we eagerly anticipate the return in late August of our students, faculty, and staff, we are seeing wonderful signs that this community too is eager to return to campus and eager to move Trinity forward in mission,” said Dykstra.

Dordt University

Erik Hoekstra, president of Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, said he is eager to welcome students back to campus this fall as well. “I have confidence in Dordt’s student services staff and medical professionals as well as the Sioux Center medical team as we prepare to have students return to campus,” he said in a letter.

“With great care and concern, we will seek to make Dordt University one of the safest places an 18- to 24-year-old can be until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed.”

Dordt’s leadership, student services, campus health, and campus facilities are working to implement a variety of measures including flexible scheduling, social distancing, self-isolation in residences when necessary, increased sanitization, and controlled campus access.

“We want to provide a safe environment for the residential, Christ-centered learning community we all love at Dordt,” said Howard Wilson, chief administrative officer.

Dordt plans to open Tues., Aug. 25, as previously scheduled. New students will move in Sat., Aug. 22, kicking off their opening Week of Welcome.

Looking to keep people safe in the fall season, said Hoekstra, “We are partnering with Sioux Center Health to receive COVID-19 tests so that we may test the campus community as needed. We are making plans for regular temperature checks, contact-tracing protocols, and other practices.”

The King's University

This fall, The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta, will focus on providing its students with a choice for course delivery.

Following guidance and restrictions set by the government of Alberta and its chief medical officer, King’s will offer courses online with the opportunity for in-person classes and lab experiences scheduled at least once per week. 

Online alternatives for in-person course components will also be made available for every student to ensure equitability and ease of access.

“This hybrid strategy will provide students with maximum flexibility for learning. Students and their families will be able to choose what best suits their respective needs,” states King’s President Melanie Humphreys.

Students can expect a number of changes when they return to campus this fall.  Course timetables will be modified and extended over more of the day to incorporate extensive health and safety measures. In-person classes will be limited to a maximum of 30 students and held only in rooms that allow for at least 36 square feet of space per person – ensuring 6 feet of physical distance can be maintained at all times. 

Where possible, the same classroom will not be used for consecutive classes to accommodate increased cleaning between occupancies. 

“This hybrid strategy will provide students with maximum flexibility for learning. Students and their families will be able to choose what best suits their respective needs,” states King’s President Melanie Humphreys.

Students can also expect to see hallway traffic modifications, adjustments to student services delivery, multi-access mental health supports, and modified campus life programming.

As part  of its plan, the university is investing in video conferencing technology for every learning space. Professors will also receive training this summer that will empower them to ensure the online components of their courses are interactive and engaging.

Kuyper College

Patricia Harris, president of Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Mich.,  says the school also plans to open for in-person instruction this fall.

“Since completing our academic year in April, we have been focused on developing suitable plans for this fall that promote student safety and success,” said  Harris. 

“While details are still in process, as our faculty and staff work diligently to implement these plans. We will continue to provide updated information in the coming weeks to our returning and new students and their families.” 

According to Harris, the return to campus will be accomplished according to public health measures and guidelines established by governmental authorities and medical experts.

“While we are committed to being back on campus, our number one  priority is the safety of our students and staff.” 

In May, the State of Michigan released the MI SAFE START plan for re-opening the state. It provides useful guidance that is being used to inform Kuyper’s campus planning and preparation. 

Kuyper is also partnering with the Kent County Health Department, which has been instrumental in providing local guidance to the college. According to Ken Capisciolto, Kuyper’s vice-president for advancement and enrollment, the college’s leadership team has engaged in numerous conversations with leaders of other institutions, ranging from higher education groups in Washington D.C. to meetings among sister institutions in West Michigan. 

“All of these meetings are focused on safely opening our college campus and delivering in-person, on-campus education.

“We believe that the layout of classrooms, dining facilities, and residence halls enable the school to utilize these spaces in ways more amenable to social distancing,” said Capisciolto. 

Kuyper is also aware that some students have medical or health considerations that may hinder in-person, on-campus attendance. As such, the college is committed to providing alternate arrangements so these students can learn from Kuyper’s faculty. 

“Finally,” said Harris, “we are confident that as we continue to navigate through the challenges of this pandemic the Kuyper College community will demonstrate broadly how an intentional Christian, in-person, residential campus community can live and learn together—and do so safely.”