July 15, 2020
Dear Knox Community,
We write to share with you additional information on our plans to bring students back to Knox in the fall. While the news accounts show rising COVID-19 infections in many states, our local situation here in Knox County and throughout Illinois does meet the conditions set forth by public health agencies for starting the school year together on campus in a responsible manner. Those conditions require that we learn some very new ways of being Knox: new ways of teaching and learning, new schedules for arrival on campus, new protocols to help address health risks, and new rules for how we live together, participate in intercollegiate athletics and student activities, and take on the shared responsibility of protecting every member of our community. We especially recognize that some of us are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and embrace the opportunity to help safeguard them.
Teaching & Learning
Preparations for the return to in-person instruction in the fall are well underway. All students who wish to return to campus for in-person learning may do so, though students may also continue their Knox education remotely. Our fall academic calendar will remain the same, but we will see changes and adaptation to the challenges of our new environment. In pursuit of our health priorities, classroom use will be constrained. Courses that rely heavily on classroom, lab, and studio spaces will need to be reinvisioned so that physical distancing and cleaning protocols can be observed. These and other courses will likely operate in hybrid modes, with a combination of in-person and remote components to serve students both on campus and those working from home. Physical distancing will require that classes meet in smaller subgroups, interactions with faculty and peers occur both in virtual and in-person settings, and daily and weekly schedules be flexible to support engagement of all students. Our updated fall course schedule will be shared by the end of July. New students will meet with their academic advisors and we will reopen the course registration process for continuing students in early August.
To assist us with our course planning, and recognizing that some of you may choose to remain at home and learn remotely, we need to hear from all students, both new and returning, about your current thoughts about your plans for fall no later than Wednesday July 22. Please communicate with us via the form that was sent to your email on July 15. What you share on this form is not a commitment in any way, as we realize your plans may change.
Shared Responsibility for Public Health
Knox’s culture of shared responsibility and care for our community will be more important than ever this fall. We have an obligation to protect one another to the very best of our ability, and we must take that responsibility seriously. For that reason, the Student and Employee Wellness Advisory Group is working with constituents to translate public health guidance into a “social contract” that we will all sign to affirm our commitment to keeping our community safe. Adhering to public health guidance and the college’s heightened safety standards is the most important individual action we can take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Policies expected to be outlined in the contract include, but are not limited to, the following:
Additional measures to mitigate health risks will include:
Testing: Our current plans call for all students to undergo a series of two tests for COVID-19 upon their initial return to campus, which together will minimize false negative results. Testing will continue throughout the term as symptoms and contact tracing require. Employees will be provided with information regarding how to obtain a test locally and will also have the option of being tested on campus. We have contracted with both Tempus Laboratories and OSF St. Mary Medical Center to facilitate testing, which will be conducted at no cost to the student or employee. These are PCR molecular tests that will be conducted by trained clinical personnel and processed at specialized laboratories.
Quarantine, isolation, and contact tracing: Even with the best public health practices, we know we cannot completely stop the spread of COVID-19, so we must plan for the eventuality that the virus will appear on campus. We are prepared for this to happen. In the event that a member of our campus community tests positive for COVID-19, we have arranged for Knox Health Services staff to be certified to carry out tracing for close contacts both on and off campus. Affected students will follow quarantine and isolation protocols within campus residences that have been reserved for this purpose. Students in quarantine or isolation will have a designated staff member to support them, will receive meals in their residence, take their classes online, and have their health and wellbeing actively monitored by a member of our professional Health Services staff. Affected faculty and staff will follow quarantine and isolation protocols at home.
Cleaning and Sanitation Protocols: Enhanced cleaning and sanitizing practices are already in place at Knox and will be expanded as students, faculty, and staff return to campus. Common spaces in academic, administrative and residential buildings will continue to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least once per day. Additionally, classroom use will be scheduled in such a way that will avoid student overlaps in hallways and entryways, and outdoor or other alternative learning spaces will be used where possible. Campus offices will be supplied with proper supplies and instruction on how to keep shared office spaces clean and disinfected. Additional attention has been focused on dining services and enhanced measures have been developed by the Bon Appetit Coronavirus Response Team.
Returning to Campus
To provide the safest process possible, move-in dates have been adjusted for some student populations. These dates will allow physically distanced move-ins, testing upon arrival, and quarantine if necessary.
Fall athletes will be assigned an arrival date of Tuesday, August 11, Wednesday, August 12, Tuesday, August 18 or Monday, August 24, based on your sport. Fall athletes should expect communication from the athletic department by the end of this week.
International students and other students coming from abroad
New international students and other new students coming from abroad should plan to arrive on campus on Tuesday, August 25. This date allows for a 14-day on-campus quarantine prior to international student orientation should public health guidance require it. Returning international students and other returning students coming from abroad should plan to arrive on campus on Saturday, August 29.
Students participating in SPARK or TRIO Bridge
Students participating in the SPARK program should plan on arriving on Tuesday, September 1. Students participating in the TRIO Bridge program should arrive on Saturday, September 5.
Remaining first-year students
All remaining first-year and transfer students will be assigned an arrival date of either Wednesday, September 9 or Thursday, September 10. Your date will be communicated to you, along with your housing assignment, by the end of July.
Student leaders such as resident assistants, orientation leaders, peer mentors and others will arrive on campus in time to begin their work that is critical to a successful start to the fall term. Student leaders should expect to hear directly from their supervisors by the end of this week.
Remaining returning students
Returning students will be assigned an arrival date of Friday, September 11, Saturday, September 12, or Sunday, September 13. Your date will be communicated to you via your Knox email by the end of July.
More details regarding move-in protocols will also be shared at the end of July.
Living on Campus
As a residential college, we want all students who wish to live on campus to be able to do so. Current public health guidance for higher education does not require students to be assigned to single rooms. Nonetheless, we recognize that some students may prefer single accommodations. We will accommodate as many students in single rooms as possible. This means that housing assignments may need to be adjusted slightly. Campus Life is working diligently to manage this important process, and will be communicating new student room assignments and any necessary changes to returning student assignments by the end of July.
The Midwest Conference and the NCAA have developed strict protocols for fall sports, including frequent testing and mask wearing for all participants who are not actively on the field of play, and will update those protocols as new information becomes available. The schools in the Conference have committed to observing these protocols. In addition, the Conference will play divisionally, minimizing the number of overnight trips except in championships. We are fully prepared to cancel competitions if circumstances warrant but are hoping to have robust opportunities for student athletes to train for their personal bests, compete for and win conference championships, and enjoy the student athlete team experience. Fall student athletes will be hearing more about their season in the coming days and weeks.
None of us can predict the future, but over the past few months, a number of standardized public health metrics have been developed that we will utilize to determine when a change in course is necessary. We will be monitoring the Knox community’s wellness day by day, watching state and local infection rates, symptoms, signs of mental health distress and other metrics. Each of the four Reopening Advisory Groups is working on backup plans that can be activated to help support the wellness of our community. Fortunately, we do have greater insights now than we did last March, and we believe that any needed adjustments will be smoother and less disruptive.
A website with current information on Knox’s plans is under development and will be published later this week. At that time I will send a message with the web address. In addition, if you have questions, please send them to email@example.com and we will respond to you as soon as possible.
Closing / Final Thoughts
In my welcoming remarks at admission events, I tell prospective students and their families that a Knox education is designed to prepare our graduates for a life of leadership and purpose in a time of enormous changes produced by technology, climate change, globalization, demographic shifts, and cultural conflict. Up until now, I never mentioned a pandemic, but I truly believe that our mission is even more important today. We are committed to giving our students powerful experiences, hands-on opportunities to practice what they learn, and we provide mentors, guides and companions along the way. That’s why we call it a human powered education. And together, we will rise to the challenge posed by this pandemic and graduate generations of students even better prepared to make a better world.
TERESA L. AMOTT