NWC students will be required to wear masks

Posted 7/9/20

Northwest College students, faculty, and staff will be required to wear masks when they come back to campus in the fall, according to a reopening plan the board of trustees approved Monday.

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NWC students will be required to wear masks


Northwest College students, faculty, and staff will be required to wear masks when they come back to campus in the fall, according to a reopening plan the board of trustees approved Monday.

The plan outlines procedures under various scenarios of response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in the areas of operations at the campus, including academics, residence life, dining, athletics, administration, events and gatherings, and community services.

Built into the plan is the ability to adjust restrictions in response to changing conditions. So if there was an outbreak, for example, the college could move more instruction to online formats.

“It represents hours and hours of thoughtful planning and discussion — cussing and discussing maybe a little — because we had to wrestle with all the things in this plan,” NWC President Stefani Hicswa said at the meeting.

Under the current recommended scenario for the fall, referred to in the plan as a “partial soft opening,” classroom instruction will take place in face-to-face and online formats.

Besides wearing masks, students participating in on-campus instruction will be required to maintain distancing. The plan says that will be determined on a case by case basis, depending on the size of the class, number of participants, and needs of the instruction.

Dean of Student Learning Greg Thomas, a member of the incident command team that coordinated the college’s pandemic response, said the team toured all the campus spaces to determine what challenges they’d face in maintaining social distancing.

“We did this with tape measures in hand,” Thomas said.

The same social distancing requirements will be used in residence halls, libraries and during forensics and livestock judging activities.

In the residence halls, students will be in single-occupancy rooms and will be required to wear masks and maintain distances in common areas. There will also be no communal dining allowed in the dorms.

The main dining areas at DeWitt Student Center are being modified to accommodate the social distancing requirements. The college will also implement increased cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces.

Staff and faculty on campus will be required to follow the same rules as the students. 

“While our goal is for students to have a normal, uninterrupted semester, we also want to keep them safe,” Hicswa said in a statement. “This plan puts us on the right path toward reducing the spread of COVID-19 while remaining student centered and focused on delivering high-quality education.”

Trustee John Housel asked about consequences for students if they don’t comply with the requirements.

Hicswa didn’t provide any details of how the college would enforce the rules, but said the students would be informed as to what the requirements are and consequences for non-compliance.

“Knowing what those consequences are up front will encourage them to comply,” Hicswa said. She cautioned that Wyoming’s culture is “a little different than some areas of the county. And we’ll need to keep that in mind as we go forward with operations.”

Full implementation of the plan is contingent on NWC receiving federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The state received $1.5 billion from the appropriation, and some of that funding is coming to the state’s community colleges. How much is still uncertain.

Trustee Carolyn Danko asked about other athletic programs, such as basketball and wrestling, which are not specifically detailed in the plan.

“I mean you’re in close contact and breathing hard. What’s going to happen to those?” she asked.

Hicswa explained that Athletics Director Brian Erickson is working with the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) to develop restrictions and guidelines for those programs, and more information on that part of the plan will be available soon.

The plan does note that student scholarships will remain in place even if athletic or competitive team schedules are canceled or reduced.

Danko also expressed concerns about students having to wash their masks, and if the college will supply them.

“I don’t know how those kids are going to do it,” Danko said.

She asked about the possibility of having a drop-off bin where students can leave their masks for cleaning.

Hicswa said a lot would depend on CARES Act funding, but said student residents do have free access to laundry facilities.

The plan as it stands now is based on current state and local guidance. Should public health orders increase restrictions, the college would move toward a more restrictive environment as well.

“The operating word is ‘current,’” Hicswa said.

Fall classes at NWC are set to begin on Wednesday, Aug. 19, with the residence halls opening on Saturday, Aug. 15.