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Higher education prepares for in-person fall classes

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Lisa Dunlap Photo Higher education institutions, including ENMU-R, have been advised to plan for reopening in the fall, but, at this point, the individual institutions are coming up with their own plans for how to do that.

Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell also intends to bring back their students for fall semester classes and are working to do so safely without specific guidance available at this point from state education officials.

Both NMMI and ENMU-R have announced that their fall semester in-person instruction will start again Aug. 17. They had closed their campuses to the public and to students, with few exceptions, in mid-March in compliance with state public health orders. Classes then went to online or remote learning for the remainder of that semester.

Some ENMU-R students are already on campus receiving in-person instruction again, said Shawn Powell, president of ENMU-R.

He said the college had received special permission from the New Mexico Department of Health and the Governor’s Office to conduct nursing assistant training starting in April. That was allowed due to the shortage of nursing assistants in the state.

In addition, some technical and vocational programs that require hands-on training in the presence of an instructor — such as automotive, welding, health services and heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology — have been meeting in small numbers during the summer so that students can complete spring semester course or program requirements that cannot be done online.

Powell said instruction is occurring while social distancing requirements are maintained and with other health precautions in place.

When it comes to fall classes, ENMU-R is preparing its own plans at this point.

In addition to following whatever state orders dictate at the time regarding limits on the number of people allowed to gather, cleaning and sanitizing of buildings and surfaces, and face coverings, ENMU-R has advised its faculty “to make the classes as hybrid as possible,” Powell said.

That means that faculty will be prepared to provide content online or remotely if circumstances change, requiring some or all students to stay home. If the current strict limits on the number of people allowed in an area remain in place, they also will have to plan to hold various sections of a class so that class sizes are reduced to comply with state orders.

He added that ENMU-R has consulted with Warren Yehl, the chief executive officer of Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, about how to prepare and respond should an outbreak of cases occur on campus.

“We don’t have a large number of residential students who are here,” Powell said. “And our dorms are privately owned. So it is not like UNM (University of New Mexico) or New Mexico State or even up in Portales, where a large number of students are moving into the dorms all at one time. But we are making plans and working with faculty to make sure that if there is a resurgence of the coronavirus — another spike, so to speak — then we can continue to offer the instruction. We are going to try to finish as much of the hands-on, required coursework as possible before Thanksgiving.”

NMMI also has put in place its own plan for the return of cadets.

According to information it has released, it plans to test all cadets, faculty and staff for COVID-19 upon arrival if testing capacity is available, with contact tracing and isolation procedures used if cases are detected. Thereafter, cadets will be monitored for symptoms each day, as will be required for all campus visitors.

NMMI is working with state officials to be allowed to have cadets, after undergoing testing, designated as “family unit” so that face coverings and social distancing will not be required. But, if that is not allowed, it is prepared to require face coverings and other health precautions. It also has purchased sanitizing units and atomizers that can disinfect rooms.

Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, president and superintendent, said during an online town hall Thursday that it has consulted with medical professionals on how to respond in case of an outbreak and would bring in medical and health experts if one occurred.

“We have room within our infirmary where we can completely isolate a cadet,” he said. “We have rooms within the barracks area that can be isolated or quarantined.” The campus also would go on lockdown.

Like ENMU-R and other universities and colleges, NMMI has made some changes to the traditional schedule so that classes, exams and graduation will conclude before Thanksgiving, when some health professionals have projected we could see a resurgence of viruses. To do that, NMMI is canceling some breaks and consolidating some events.

“Some of the things are very fluid,” he said. “It is all intended to get things done by Thanksgiving break. It is also intended to give our cadets time (to relax from demanding schedules).”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or reporter02@rdrnews.com.