Dakota Wesleyan University and South Dakota’s public universities will return to in-person classes this fall when students return to campus for the 2020-21 school year.

The private school in Mitchell will resume face-to-face classes for the fall semester Aug. 24 and continue with that format with safety modifications to class and campus life through Nov. 20. After that date, classes will continue online, with the last day of final exams scheduled for Dec. 16. The moves replicate what is being done at colleges around the country, with plans to start school in August and have the on-campus portion of fall term finished by Thanksgiving break.

The school announced March 17 that it would hold classes remotely for the rest of the 2019-20 spring semester and has not held live classes since.

DWU President Amy Novak said in an announcement that the plan will help ensure students, faculty and staff safety as the traditional holiday seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas approach later in the semester.

“We have chosen to modify the fall calendar in order to mitigate the potential risks to the campus community posed by students traveling home for Thanksgiving and then returning to campus,” Novak said.

Dakota Wesleyan University students will be welcome to return home for Thanksgiving, but if they do, they will be encouraged to not return to campus after the holiday. Students who do not return home for Thanksgiving will be free to remain in campus residence halls following the move to the online learning protocol through Dec. 18.

The school will also be implementing a number of safety measures to help stem the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

  • The school will implement new classroom and building capacity numbers that will enable students and faculty to practice safe social distancing in classroom and other campus facilities.

  • Modifications to classes and schedules will be made to remain in alignment with classrooms and building capacity numbers.

  • A variety of procedures and options will be created in collaboration with university dining, including social distancing in the dining room, staggered dining schedules and order-ahead and carry-out options.

“In implementing these measures, our goal continues to be delivering a high-quality educational experience to all of our students, while simultaneously maximizing the health and safety of all members of our campus community,” Novak said.

There is also a plan for DWU to resume athletic competition beginning in August. Practices and contests will be modified in accordance with guidance from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Great Plains Athletic Conference.

To date, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the DWU campus community. Should a member of the campus community be diagnosed with the disease, the university has policies and procedures in place to address the situation. A number of residence hall rooms are being set aside by the university where students can be quarantined if necessary. The university says it has infrastructure in place for students to continue their coursework should they be unable to attend classes for an extended period of time.

DWU said it is exploring options for testing and screening students, faculty and staff for the virus, periodically, as well as developing a variety of contingency plans that will allow the university to tighten or loosen campus protocols in response to changes at the local, state and regional levels.

Public universities make similar move

The plans by DWU follow closely the plans of the South Dakota Board of Regents and its own decision to implement a similar fall semester schedule for the six public universities in the state.

The board announced Wednesday that all campuses will begin instruction Aug. 19, which is three days earlier than originally scheduled. Instead of returning to campus after the Thanksgiving recess Nov. 22-29, students will complete their final exams remotely.

“The goal is to maintain the academic calendar while being mindful of public health,” said John W. Bastian, president of the South Dakota Board of Regents, in a statement. “Our university presidents recommended this adjustment to reduce student travel to and from campus. Everyone is looking for wars to successfully operate during a global pandemic and avoid the spread of this coronavirus wherever possible.”

Three traditional holidays — Labor Day, Native American Day and Veterans Day — will become class days in order to provide for the required instructional time in a condensed semester and to further reduce travel. With classes in session on those dates, universities are expected to plan programming to appropriately recognize the holidays. Employees will be given time off in lieu of these holidays later in the year.

After Thanksgiving, students will have two non-class days available as they prepare for final exams Dec. 2-8. All university campuses plan to be closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day to facilitate deep cleaning and other preparations for the spring semester.

Pandemic planning is also underway on all campuses with additional details and protocols to be announced.

The Board of Regents is the constitutional governing body for Black Hills State University, Dakota State University, Northern State University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, South Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the South Dakota School for the Deaf.