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SOU fall semester begins with mostly remote learning

File photo A student returns to campus after picking up lunch in between Shasta Hall and McLoughlin Hall at Southern Oregon University.

Southern Oregon University students head back to class Wednesday, but most instruction will be held remotely until the middle of next month to protect the campus community against COVID-19.

SOU President Linda Schott announced in-person classes would not resume until Oct. 11, citing consultations the school had with local health officials, who said full-time in-person instruction may contribute to the surge in COVID-19 cases at area hospitals.

To the school’s credit, a majority of the campus community, including students, are vaccinated against coronavirus, noted SOU spokesman Joe Mosley. That’s just one reason SOU officials have more optimism about the 2021-22 school year compared to last year.

“By this time [last year], it was pretty apparent that we had a long slog ahead of us,” Mosley said. “[Now] the projections are that things are gradually going to start getting better. That’s not to say there won’t be hiccups down the road.”

The mostly virtual learning does not mean campus will be shut down. Athletic and other events will continue, and people will be admitted as long as they provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours of the event. What’s more, returning students will be treated to glow-in-the-dark miniature golf at the student union at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24.

Dean of Students Carrie Vath talked about the importance of students participating in the events even as a pandemic persists.

“When they’re able to come away to college, they’re only with a group of people who have only seen that 18-year-old self; they have no history,” she said. “So part of being able to provide move-in [to campus dorms] and these activities is the opportunity for them to show who they are, not who they were. The freedom to express themselves and the satisfaction of being seen is so critical for their development.”

Vath noted that facilities such as the campus library, student union and dorms are open for the start of the semester.

Once in-person instruction begins, students who are either vaccinated or unvaccinated will be able to participate in a classroom, but those in the latter category must have accommodations — including masks, social distancing and frequent COVID-19 testing — approved by the dean of students. Anyone who is not approved for those accommodations will not be able to participate in in-person learning.

Per Gov. Kate Brown’s mandate, members of the campus community will be required to wear face coverings inside and outside.

Classes that will not be remote are arts and science labs, given those are tough to transfer to remote instruction, Mosley said. Employees who are in landscaping, custodial and the health and wellness center will not work remotely.

Kim Andresen, marketing and box office manager at Oregon Center for the Arts, said many arts will be virtual until mid-October, but some will not, including band classes, which can include specially made masks for the players to wear while performing and a covering for the instrument where wind comes out.

“They’re very excited about getting back together to hone their craft and to perform,” she said. “Now, more than ever, we need art.”

The school year starts ahead of an Oct. 18 deadline for all public employees to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 — with exceptions possible for certain religious beliefs or medical conditions. Mosley said the number of campus community members who are vaccinated is well ahead of Oregon’s other colleges and universities.

“It is interesting, especially because the vaccination rates in our region are so low,” Mosley said. “[A high vaccination rate] is something we’re really proud of. We’ve worked really hard to get the word out to our students and our employees on how important it is to have a safe environment for everyone to learn.”