[Live Blog] Penn State Student Fall Semester Town Hall

Penn State administrators will answer questions about the fall semester and return to campus during a virtual town hall for students this afternoon.

Earlier Monday, the university held a virtual town hall focused on faculty and staff. There, President Eric Barron announced Penn State will use the Nittany Lion Inn to quarantine students who test positive for the coronavirus, enforce wearing face masks around campus, and continue developing plans for the fall throughout the summer.

Follow along for the next hour as administrators including Barron, Provost Nick Jones, and Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims answer questions from students around the world.

If you’d like to anonymously submit questions of your own, head over to this Google Form. The event will be livestreamed and later archived online for repeat viewings if you’d like to watch again.

4:32 p.m. — Thanks for tuning in to today’s town hall and following along with us, folks. It’s tough to cram answers to more than the 3,000 questions Penn State received, but, hopefully, you now have a better idea of what the fall semester may hold.

Stay smart, safe, and healthy!

4:30 p.m. — “It’s incumbent on each one of us to do our part,” Barron says. “In fact, it’s essential.”

“The Penn State experience may look somewhat different this fall, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing our campuses busy with students, faculty, and staff once again.”

4:26 p.m. — Barron talks about football and basketball student-athletes’ return to campus but couldn’t commit to any plans for a football season just yet. He says there will be more conversations surrounding the season in the coming weeks and months.

Barron also notes Penn State isn’t interested in creating a “super-spreader event,” which could potentially occur at a packed Beaver Stadium or tailgate lot.

4:24 p.m. — Sims says Penn State is attempting to limit students’ travel as much as possible to mitigate potential virus spread. Holding classes on Labor Day and moving online following Thanksgiving are both a result of this. Sims added guests will be prohibited in residence halls as well.

4:23 p.m. — Penn State is working to ensure no student returns to campus and finds all their classes are online, according to Barron.

4:19 p.m. — Sims discusses off-campus leases and what may happen to them if Penn State moves away from in-person instruction at any time this fall. Although the university can’t directly influence legal issues surrounding them, he encourages students to reach out to Penn State’s legal services if needed.

4:17 p.m. — Jones says Penn State doesn’t currently plan on utilizing alternative grading options this fall once classes move online following Thanksgiving. The university, according to Jones, is prepared to move online in November and doesn’t foresee needing to move away from traditional grades.

4:14 p.m. — Ferrari discusses how individuals may quarantine on campus, especially if they live with a roommate or have been in contact with other students and faculty. They’re advised to contact UHS, schedule a test, and take steps to limit contact with others while awaiting test results.

4:10 p.m. — Next, Barron addresses fall commencement procedures. Although an in-person celebration isn’t currently in the plans, the university will continue supporting soon-to-be graduates with a virtual ceremony. Penn State remains committed to inviting grads back to campus for a celebration once it’s safe to do so.

“We’re going to make sure you have that degree, that it’s been awarded, and we will also, regardless of what happens, make sure we have that time to celebrate your accomplishments.”

4:08 p.m. — Jones discusses international students’ concerns, such as limited access to travel visas and flight restrictions. Penn State will release a “fairly specific suite of options” for international students in the coming weeks, according to Jones.

4:05 p.m. — Barron rejoins the stream to discuss steps Penn State has taken to financially assist students and their families, including freezing tuition, lowering summer session tuition rates, and providing financial aid grants.

4:01 p.m. — Jones adds Penn Staters should under no circumstances feel pressured to resume in-person learning if they feel unsafe. He believes Penn Staters will benefit from returning to classrooms under new procedures and guidelines but reiterates there are programs in place to support students remotely.

3:58 p.m. — Sims says Penn State will “strictly enforce” wearing face masks in classes, in campus buildings, and throughout the community. He adds not following the procedures would potentially violate the Student Code of Conduct and be met with disciplinary action.

3:57 p.m. — Barron says Penn State has delayed renovations on some dorms and kept them online to “maximize the opportunity” for an immunocompromised student to have access to a single dorm room. He hopes these measures will keep the university’s health systems from being overwhelmed.

3:51 p.m. — Ferrari adds the university will immediately test symptomatic individuals and test those identified in contact-tracing procedures. Finally, Penn State will test asymptomatic individuals to find cases before they spread further and detect changes, patterns, or outbreaks.

3:48 p.m. — Biology professor and researcher within the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics Matt Ferrari joins the stream next and discussed epidemiological modeling (read: predicting how the virus will spread).

He noted the university has utilized projections to analyze how thousands of students’ return to campus will affect campus health and prepare as best it can.

3:47 p.m. — Immunocompromised students will receive priority access to single dorm rooms and are encouraged to work with physicians at home before returning to campus to develop a detailed plan, according to Sims.

3:46 p.m. — Barron emphasizes the university will be “flexible and nimble” when creating options for students who can’t return to campus, are sick, or don’t feel comfortable attending classes in person.

He reiterated the university is “one Penn State” that will continue to support any and all students as it navigates the pandemic and return to campus.

3:45 p.m. — Above all else, students should work to stay safe before returning to campus, Barron said. Quarantining when possible and wearing masks will go a long way, according to Barron.

“This starts before you even come on campus, and it makes a tremendous difference.”

3:42 p.m. — Sims also reviewed new residence hall guidelines, including limiting dorm rooms to two students, reducing common area seating, and preventing guest access at the beginning of the semester.

3:40 p.m. — Sims adds Penn State is expanding its health symptoms, developing a “robust” contact-tracing system, and converting on-campus locations, including the Nittany Lion Inn, into quarantine isolation facilities for students affected by the coronavirus.

He also noted students will be able to take courses virtually even if they’re being conducted in person if need be.

3:38 p.m. — Now speaking is Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for Student Affairs, who commended the “vitality” of the Penn State community over the past few chaotic months.

“It’s been a remarkable achievement.”

3:36 p.m. — The president stated all Penn Staters are required to wear face masks on campus, in classrooms, and within the community. The university will reportedly enforce mask-wearing but hasn’t yet detailed how. Penn State will distribute approximately 500,000 masks to those in need.

3:34 p.m. — Barron reiterated Penn State will resume in-person classes on Monday, August 24, and deliver courses remotely starting on November 20. He noted Penn State is committed to providing a “robust” experience for all students through opt-in remote learning options for those unable to return to campus.

3:30 p.m. — Barron has started the town hall with some opening remarks. He gave thanks to students, faculty, and staff for their strength over the past few months and applauded their efforts to continue reflecting the values Penn State holds amid uncertain circumstances.

3:15 p.m. — Welcome to Onward State’s live blog of today’s virtual town hall where university leaders will answer students’ questions related to the fall semester. This will be your one-stop-shop for everything addressed by Barron and Co. during the next hour.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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