ANTIGONISH: With virtually every other post-secondary institution across the province moving to on-line learning for the fall semester, StFX University has announced their decision to welcome students back to campus for September.

In a statement, the university says it will be offering a Senate-endorsed approach of mixed-method course delivery, which will begin on September 14, with most classes taking place in-person and “some classes” offered on-line.

”This is a decision that comes after much careful planning and deliberation,” interim president Kevin Wamsley said. “The safety and well-being of our students, staff, and faculty, as well as the members of our town and county of Antigonish, is our top priority and will remain so as we welcome our community back to campus.”

According to the university, their plans relating to faculty, students and staff returning to campus for the fall semester was presented to the provincial public health authorities for review.

These plans included protocols related to physical spaces, logistics, and movement on campus to ensure social distancing, to practices relating to new cleaning and disinfecting standards consistent with the guidelines issued by public health.

“For certain, it will take the effort of the entire community to ensure our collective health and safety,” Wamsley said. “Therefore, new behavioural standards and expectations of our community have been developed and will be shared in the days and weeks ahead.”

As to why StFX is having in-person courses when so many other universities have elected to hold their fall terms on-line, the university says there are a number of factors in its favour, including a rural location that’s removed from bigger urban centres, and a smaller student population, as compared to many larger universities in the province.

“We are confident we can create a safe environment for students to continue their university education in person,” the university said. “To this end, we have worked carefully on a plan to safely and responsibly welcome students back to campus.”

He indicated as per the public health guidelines in place on June 19, all domestic students, living on or off-campus, who are coming from outside Nova Scotia will be required to self-isolate for 14-days.

This requirement may be altered in the coming weeks but remains the standard of practice today.

Students planning to live in residence and travelling from out-of-province will be contacted in July by university housing to schedule their arrival time on August 30 or 31, two weeks before the official beginning of the fall term.

“StFX’s decision on whether students will need to self-isolate will depend on the provincial health authority’s ability to lift this restriction,” the university said. “Students living on campus will be able to self-isolate in residence, where they will be supported with meal delivery, laundry service, and other assistance measures StFX can provide.”

Students planning to live in residence and not requiring self-isolation, will be contacted in July to schedule their arrival date between September 10 and 13.

Full details on enhanced cleaning, screening, and safety protocols for residence will be announced in the coming days but at a high-level, they will include the elimination of double bedrooms, safety restrictions for residence washrooms that are shared and/or semi-private, and reduced access to student common areas

Off-campus students travelling from outside the province must make arrangements to arrive in Antigonish so that their self-isolation period will end by the start of classes on September 14.

“Students living off campus will be expected to submit a self-isolation plan to StFX, including details on when they are arriving in Antigonish and where they will complete their self-isolation. We will share more detail about these plan requirements later in the summer, should self-isolation be needed.”

All off-campus students will be required to submit a health and travel declaration form to student life prior to arriving to Antigonish and will be required to check in at a designated, central location.

Ensuring safety in high traffic area like meal hall, StFX will be eliminating buffet and self-service options to reduce contact touch points, reducing their meal hall capacity to ensure there are never too many people in the building at one time, and re-arranging their seating to ensure physical distancing requirements are met.

“Reflecting the seriousness of maintaining a healthy and safe community environment, only those students who adhere to the health and safety protocols will be allowed access to the campus,” Wamsley said. “All students, whether living on or off-campus, will be required to adhere to the health and safety guidelines throughout the academic year.”

An information page of the university’s Web site indicated students may elect not to return to campus and complete some courses on-line, however, as a limited number of courses will be offered on-line, it may not be possible for students to fulfill their program requirements in a timely manner.

Decisions on which courses will be offered in-person or on-line will be made before the course timetable is published on July 9.

Physical distancing will be enforced in classrooms, residences, and student service areas like meal hall, and non-medical masks will be required.

The university warned failure to follow the health and safety guidelines will be a serious violation of the community code and may even result in expulsion from the university.

As for whether StFX’s decision to bring students back to campus poses a risk to the community and the local health care system, the university suggested students are integral to the social, cultural, and economic fabric of the Antigonish area.

“That’s why we have worked closely with government officials, including the Town and County of Antigonish, on our plan to safely and responsibly welcome students back to campus,” the university said. “This plan has been endorsed by provincial public health officials, and we are confident that our protocols for enhanced screening, cleaning, and safety will ensure the health and well-being of all.”