Reopening with Choice Was a Success

The following first appeared in the Richmond Register on 11/14. 

Lyle Roelofs

Berea College President Lyle Roelofs

In August, Berea College enacted a number of new policies for students, faculty and staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am happy to report that the measures we took to ensure everyone’s safety while continuing our educational mission have been a success.  Students are graduating, we’ve had only a handful of positive cases, and our community has shown great resilience.

Our students and employees have cooperated well with a rigorous set of rules designed to limit the possibilities both of introducing the contagion into campus and it being passed around. We made extensive physical modifications of spaces to ensure safety in classrooms and other gathering places, and we have conducted scheduled testing for both on-campus students and employees.

Faculty were given the choice to teach courses in person or online, and the result was about 62 percent of courses offered this semester were taught online. Faculty were creative in making adjustments to succeed in their learning goals as the format changed for many courses. One painting course, for example, was taught in person but mostly outside.

Consistent with Gov. Andy Beshear’s Healthy at Work guidance, all employees who are able to work remotely are doing so. One-third of our staff is working fully remotely, one-third is working on campus, and one-third is working a mixture of on campus and remotely.

Taking these steps has successfully limited transmission of COVID-19. To date we have had only three cases among in-person students, all of which seem to have been due to travel off campus. There have been considerably more positive tests for students doing remote learning, but we do not have accurate statistics there because not all students report cases. Both for in-person and remote-learning students we do not know of any cases of serious illness.

We did have an unfortunate outbreak in the Child Development Laboratory, our on-campus day care center. This occurred after operating safely for four months, but it necessitated a three-week closure of the facility. The CDL re-opened on Nov. 2, and we hope to be able to continue operations there without further incident.

For employees, we have had more cases because they have to live outside the campus bubble. A number of these cases were detected through our scheduled testing program. Every employee and student had to have a negative test to start the semester, and we have been doing scheduled testing of on-campus employees and students throughout the semester. Our test-positivity rate for employees is 2 percent, and for students it is virtually zero. For employee cases, aside from the CDL situation, there has been no transmission on campus, thanks to rigorous contact tracing.

In general, life on campus has continued virtually. Our wonderful convocation program, for example, was conducted entirely online, and the customary high quality of the presentations has been maintained. Athletics was postponed for the fall, but we expect to resume in the spring semester, with men’s and women’s basketball commencing around mid-January and all other sports occurring with shortened seasons and reduced travel.

In total, 1,367 students have been able to continue their education this semester, 797 in person and 569 remotely. I am proud to say that 64 students will have satisfied the requirements for graduation at the end of the current term.

While we hope never to need to take advantage in the future of all we have learned in dealing with COVID-19, it has been a powerful learning experience for our community.  Thanks to the contributions of many, we have proven resilient. We look forward to next semester, when we will again re-open with choice.