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Students react to fall reopening plans amid rising COVID-19 cases

As the fall semester nears and COVID-19 cases continue to increase, some students feel that USF should reconsider reopening while others want to return to campus while practicing social distancing. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

USF released its reopening plans for the fall semester to be a mixture of face-to-face and online instruction, and students as well as parents have had opinions regarding what has been said thus far. However, as COVID-19 cases hit daily records in the state, there is still much uncertainty.

With the fall semester starting in six weeks, students are waiting to see if their classes will transition to online or if the university will continue with its plans to allow face-to-face instruction on campus.

This week, Florida took the spotlight as the world’s epicenter of COVID-19, according to The Hill, and the state saw the highest number of new cases on July 12 with over 15,000, the largest single-day increase any state has recorded.

Some students find the plan to come back on campus to be appropriate despite the spiking cases, while others feel it is a safety issue for students, faculty and staff.

Angeleigh Palazzolo, a junior majoring in elementary education, voiced her concerns about the reopening.

“I don’t love the idea of the campus opening back up in the fall,” Palazzolo said. “It just doesn’t seem safe.”

Palazzolo is registered for all in-person classes, but said they are all relatively small in size. She said she feels that in-person classes should have a low student count, like the ones she is in, and that each classroom should be thoroughly sanitized after each use.

Alexia Bianchi, a sophomore majoring in psychology, said she thinks students should be able to take more face-to-face classes if they want to.

“I think a more appropriate response would have been to make all or most classes available for in person, but have an online option available for those that are uncomfortable or feel unsafe,” Bianchi said. “The choice to go online should have been a decision made by each student and not a decision made for the student by the university.”

For some classes, such as labs, dance and theater, face-to-face instruction has usually been the primary option for taking these courses.

Sarah Hamilton, a senior majoring in dance, said the virtual transition for dance classes was challenging.

“The last half of spring semester online was probably one of the worst experiences of my life,” Hamilton said. “Of course I feel it could have been worse, but as someone who is used to being in a dance studio every day, it was quite rough.”

With reopening, Hamilton said precautions have to be taken for dance students.

“The reopening is a tricky thing right now,” she said. “I am someone who is very avid about wearing masks and distancing and agree that if a class can be online, it should. Many of our dance lecture classes will remain online. As of right now, our physical technique classes will function as a hybrid with about 25 percent face-to-face and the other 75 percent online.

“It is impossible for us to grow as dancers taking classes in our living rooms so this setup is going to be much better for us. We will only dance with eight people in the room at max and will wear masks as well as clean the studios after each class to keep everything sanitary. For instances like ours, it is definitely a great thing to reopen, but I do believe many classes should not allow face-to-face instruction.”

Another arts student, music education senior Addy Burwell, said she is feeling the impact of online classes with her degree as well, and has not heard anything from the College of Music.

“I’ll be mad if my piano studio is online,” Burwell said. “Some kind of in-person ensemble would be great, but I cannot improve as a musician much if they don’t even let me use the practice rooms in the School of Music, which is my main concern. Getting a whole arts degree on an electric piano in my apartment was not my plan.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that those with underlying health conditions and immunocompromisations are at greater risk for complications with COVID-19. Kala Tedder, a junior majoring in environmental sciences, said she fears returning to campus due to her asthma.

“I’m pretty hesitant about the entire situation,” Tedder said. “I have a really solid mask to protect myself, but there still is that lingering paranoia.”

Tedder said she has one lab that has yet to make the online transition, so she is bracing for going to class in person, but said she will question if someone in her class is infected with the virus.

“How can I learn in an environment that I am paranoid in?” she asked. “If I hear someone cough or sneeze I will wonder if they have coronavirus.”

Agreeing that a full return to campus may not be the safest option is Jennifer Vongsyprasom, a junior majoring in communications.

“I don’t feel safe because we have such a large campus and I haven’t seen a culture of shared responsibility among students to keep the place clean,” Vongsyprasom said.

While Tedder said she feels that online classes are safest, she is unsure about the success she will have in them.

“I normally take one or two online classes a semester anyway, but I am very hesitant to take 12 hours of online classes,” Tedder said. “It was a lot last semester.”

Online classes are not favorable to Bracken Crisman, a senior majoring in business analytics and information systems.

“I’m a student that does much better in classes that are face-to-face because I feel a sense of urgency, for some reason, when I have to go to class instead of just signing into Canvas to complete assignments,” Crisman said. “I also think I learn the material better in face-to-face classes.”

While many professors have deemed their classes “online-only” and the university is mandating some to be as well, USF plans for its reopening in the fall to include some in-person classes with students wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing.

“I think this is the right move, and I think that it is OK for the campus to reopen because I have seen statistics showing that people ages 18 to 24 are at very, very low risk when it comes to COVID-19,” Crisman said. “Obviously I don’t want anyone to catch it and I don’t want to catch it, but I think there has to be plans to reopen these institutions because people I know, and me, are struggling in school because they hate online classes.”

Another supporter of in-person classes is Bianchi, who said she feels that fully online classes will be hindering her education, not helping it.

“I do not learn well online and I believe my education is being jeopardized for no reason,” Bianchi said. “I have invested a lot of time and money into obtaining an education that I feel I am not receiving the full benefits of. I have not learned anything from online learning and my GPA has been dropping.”

With the increase of cases, criminology sophomore Kristian Rivera said he thinks that while it is unfavorable to have online courses, it makes the most sense.

“I think going online is the smartest choice, and, although it is not the choice I wanted, I know that’s ultimately what had to happen,” Rivera said. “If we shut down the school back in the middle of the spring semester just when COVID-19 hit Florida with fewer than 1,000 cases, then keeping the school closed when we have more than 10,000 cases a day is obvious.”

There were 63,894 new cases reported by Florida the week of July 5, according to the CDC.

Parents have also been speaking out about their opinions on the reopening plans and they are having to make financial and health-sensitive decisions regarding sending their student(s) to USF’s campus in the fall.

The mother of an incoming freshman, Stacee Reape, said she was happy with the reopening plans and anticipated her son experiencing face-to-face classes, but was disappointed to find out her son’s schedule is fully online.

“When we got his schedule about a month ago, all but one of his classes were face-to-face and the class sizes were all under 50,” Reape said. “We were so happy with this schedule and plan. Then yesterday, I saw posts in the parent USF group chat saying their child’s schedule changes to online, and so we checked his and all of his classes are online.”

Reape said she feels that USF should have taken another approach over just switching classes to online.

“I think the university should have left smaller classes face-to-face and had social distancing protocols for those who want to be on campus,” Reape said. “For those who do not, then they could have let those students choose an online schedule.”

Financially, Reape said it does not make sense to pay for online schooling when they were expecting in-person instruction, but her son signed a lease with an apartment building back in February.

“I feel like we are stuck for this year because of our lease with the apartment, but if other universities opened back up next year, and USF did not, I cannot imagine continuing to pay for an education and living expenses if classes were only online.”

While she recognizes that living away from home can be an enjoyable part of the college experience, it still is a burden due to the online class schedule.

“That is definitely an issue for us and why we plan on sending him anyway this August although a huge waste of money for his classes to be online,” Reape said. “From a financial standpoint, it truly doesn’t make sense. He will have to work to help pay for his rent, but he is willing to do that in order to move there.”

Even though Tedder has compromised, she still thinks there are potentially ways for students and professors to meet together for class too.

“There are still ways we can interact with each other safely. I have seen some teachers talk about holding outside classes, and we have a spacious campus,” Tedder said. “It really depends a lot on the students and staff if they are going to militantly follow guidelines.”

Students will have fully remote classes after Thanksgiving break, but USF reserves the right to go fully remote at any time during the semester, and some students think that the switch could be made before the November break.

“I don’t have a lot of faith in the semester staying hybrid,” Vongsyprasom said. “The switch might come before Thanksgiving break.”

Vongsyprasom said she is fine with the switch to virtual learning after Thanksgiving, but recognizes that there may be issues for other students.

“Not every student has a good study situation at home,” Vongsyprasom said. “It would be unproductive to force them to fail their final exams if their environment isn’t optimal for studying, so having a sort of option to return to campus with temperature screenings and required testing to be on campus may help those students.”

However, Rivera is in support of completely shutting down in-person interactions for the fall semester completely.

“Honestly, they should just shut down the school for fall,” Rivera said. “The easiest way to prevent the spread is giving the virus no chance of spreading. Students are mad, and that is understandable, but we can’t be selfish. Yes, we pay for our education, but the people educating us also need to be protected.”

With COVID-19 cases spiking across Florida and much uncertainty as to how the semester will go, students will wait for USF administrators to make decisions on how instruction and life on campus will play out in the fall.

Tedder said she just asks that the university place people over profits.

“Prioritize vulnerable students and staff and make the decisions necessary to the community, not the financial benefit of the university,” Tedder said. “The university will recover, but our community, if we lose that many people, won’t be the same.”