Texas A&M System makes plans for how to handle in-person instruction this fall

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The Academic Building on the Texas A&M University campus on March 26, 2018. Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

When Texas A&M students return in the fall, they will experience a host of changes, from hybrid classes held both in-person and online to a curtailment of out-of-town trips.

Texas A&M University System officials voted Friday on systemwide guidance for the fall semester. While some face-to-face classes will resume, many will be conducted in a "hybrid" model. Certain courses will be prioritized for in-person instruction, such as speech, performance and clinical classes.

"All courses must be designed to shift to a remote environment if the conditions warrant," said James Hallmark, the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the A&M system. "If indeed a second wave hits in the fall...our courses will be designed from the start to (transition) with less disruption."

With this model, students will likely be assigned days to show up to class. If a 50-person class meets on Tuesday and Thursday, 25 students would be allowed to show up on one designated day. Sign-in sheets will be discouraged to avoid transmission risks. And officials are seriously considering lengthening the instructional day and may extend classes through the weekend.

Hallmark said all meeting spaces, including classrooms, will sharply curtail capacity. For example, a room that typically would accommodate 50 people will instead only allow 15 people at a time. Physical adjustments will be made, such as installing plexiglass separators or other distancing aids.

Residence halls will be open, with students expected to maintain social distancing as much as possible. Students will be discouraged from traveling away from their campus, as well as inviting overnight and out-of-town guests. If they do leave campus, they must self-report any exposure to COVID-19 and may need to self-isolate afterwards. There will be designated spaces in residence halls for students to use as they quarantine themselves.

While sports will resume, Friday's plan did not include details. Hallmark said the system would be waiting for guidance from the NCAA and specific conferences.

The plan emphasizes flexibility across each of the school system's 11 campuses, with each university tailoring specific accommodations to its region. Training modules have already been sent to employees, who will soon return to campus.

Officials recognized the need to balance campus activities with academics. System Chancellor John Sharp said the campus experience is "invaluable."

"You can get a degree online but it's very hard to become an Aggie online," Sharp said.

System spokesperson Laylan Copelin previously told the Tribune that the pandemic has not affected the university system’s summer enrollment, while fall enrollment remains steady.

A&M's flagship campus in College Station has spent $20 million to reimburse students for on-campus services like housing, dining and parking. It is projected to lose up to $27 million more in revenue, which includes canceled events, spokesperson Laylan Copelin said.

The federal stimulus program gave the A&M system $76 million to be split between its campuses, covering revenue losses and providing financial aid for students. The University of Texas system got $172.5 million for its 14 institutions.

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