COLUMBUS — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine released guidelines on Thursday for colleges and universities as they look to resume classes, as well as an update on possible funding to help K-12 schools and higher education institutions in the state.
The Ohio Department of Higher Education, in consultation with Ohio colleges, universities, the Ohio Department of Health, and health experts across the state have developed guidance to help campuses safely reopen, according to information provided by DeWine’s office.
The Responsible RestartOhio guidance for Institutions of Higher Education includes minimum operating standards for all campuses, as well as best practices to further enhance those standards.
“By implementing these minimum requirements and implementing best practices, our higher education communities can continue to educate students and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Gov. DeWine.
Because each campus must develop policies and procedures related to COVID-19 testing, new guidance for COVID-19 testing at institutions of higher education was also released to help institutions tailor their testing plan to their community and develop policies related to the isolation of symptomatic students, faculty, and staff members.
The guidelines came on the week that the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College resumed in-person classes for the second summer session.
In announcing the return to classes last month, the University stated that the decision came after several meetings of it’s COVID task force.
“It is important that we recognize the dialogue is still constantly changing. Rio will continue to make decisions based on the recommendations of local, state and federal health care officials,” stated Rebecca Long, chief operating officer and VP of Student Affairs in a news release last month. Long added that Rio is working closely with local health department to develop guidelines and protocols moving forward.
That Rio press release from June stated it planned to be conservative in how the institution returned to face-to-face operations. Class sizes were to be limited, with lectures divided or moved to larger spaces allowing for safe social distancing. Rio also planned to offer additional general education courses for students not ready to head to larger, more populated areas.
“We are taking several precautions and have put in additional measures to assure the safety of our students, staff, and community,” said Long via the same press release. “Things are still changing rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are planning for any scenario.”
“We are very fortunate to be in a rural area of the state,” President Ryan Smith said in the same news release announcing that in-person classes would resume. “…Precautions must still be made for the safety and peace of mind for the Rio family and our community. Recognizing that students from all over the state, will join us for our small class sizes and personal attention, their health and safety remains the utmost importance.”
Other colleges and universities have not resumed in person instruction to this point, but are planning for fall. College and University leaders from the region reacted to Thursday’s announcement of the reopening guidelines and proposed funding assistance.
“I am extremely grateful for Gov. Mike DeWine’s leadership and strong support of higher education, especially during these unpredictable and unprecedented times. Today’s announcement for a responsible ‘restart’ of higher education includes best practices that will enable Ohio University to continue to provide a high-quality educational experience for our students with health and safety top-of-mind,” Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis said.
Nellis continued, “The recommendations outlined by Governor DeWine and his team closely align with plans that resulted from our Ohio University Fall Planning process, which involved more than 100 students, faculty, and staff as well as the leadership of our five senates. The Governor has demonstrated a deep commitment to educational attainment for our students, and we appreciate the Governor’s, Speaker Larry Householder’s, President Larry Obhof’s and Minority leaders’ Kenny Yuko and Emilia Sykes commitment to providing additional funds through the Coronavirus Relief Fund to help ensure a safe return to campus this fall.”
A statement from Hocking College President Dr. Betty Young read: “Each of our colleges and universities is unique, serving the diverse needs of all Ohioans. Hocking College, a two-year technical college, looks and feels very different from other two-year colleges. Hocking College has residence halls and the student life that accompanies this type of campus. In his typical way, Gov. DeWine has personally listened to each of our institutions as we have shared our common concerns and our unique challenges. He’s listened not as a politician, but as a partner with us, as a parent, a grandparent and someone who cares about those in need. His belief that education is a pathway to prosperity for individuals and our state is not new. The support he has given to our colleges, for the specific needs we have at this time, will make it possible to deliver on the promise of opportunity for all who are willing to do the work, gain the skills and get back to work for Ohio communities.”
In addition to the guidelines, DeWine announced that he would be asking the Ohio Controlling Board to allocate funding to assist K-12 schools as well as higher education institutions as they prepare for the upcoming school year.
DeWine and leaders of the Ohio General Assembly are requesting that the Ohio Controlling Board approve an initial request on Monday to allocate $200 million for higher education and $100 million for K-12 schools from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
“This funding comes from federal CARES Act dollars to help schools meet their unique individual needs,” said DeWine. “We intend for this funding to be very flexible to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
The funding would be available to all public and private schools and for all two and four-year colleges and universities, both public and private, including adult career tech providers.
The funding request is in addition to the more than $440 million in direct federal CARES Act funding that Ohio K-12 schools are receiving and the more than $190 million in direct federal funding provided to Ohio’s colleges and universities.
Guidelines for higher education and other COVID-19 restart guidelines can be found at coronavirus.ohio.gov.
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Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.