Back to school?

Pa.'s higher ed leaders weigh best approaches to fall reopening

  • Russ Walker/PA Post
Good morning. I recently finished reading Amity and Prosperity, Eliza Griswold’s powerful account about how the fracking boom affected families living in a corner of Washington County. It’s a powerful story of the cost of communities of resource extraction. The book came to mind when I saw two stories in the Sunday edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The first is about a Butler County community that saw water wells go bad after fracking operations started nearby. The other is about a campaign by ReImagine Appalachia that hopes to shape a future for the region that’s not based on fighting against coal, natural gas and heavy industry. — Russ Walker, PA Post editor

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., Monday, Nov. 25, 2019.

We can’t manage what our students do on their own time. … I think too many places are assuming a massive change in the behavior of young people.”

That quote is from William Behre, the president of Slippery Rock University. He said that to Ben Pontz, who has a story on PA Post today about how colleges and universities across Pennsylvania are planning for resuming classes in the fall.

Several college presidents outlined for Ben how they are carefully planning to reopen their campuses to at least a portion of their students. They believe rapid testing, smaller class sizes and single-occupant-only dorm rooms will enable them to reopen safely.

[Read Ben’s story‘I’d be nuts not to be anxious’: Pa. college administrators prepare for unpredictable fall semester]

To William Behre’s point: Human nature is impossible to predict or control, especially when it involves teens and young adults. Add in a highly contagious airborne virus and, well, you get messes like Greenwich, CT, where rich kids partied, spreading the coronavirus.

Just how responsible will college kids be, especially after being away from their friends and classmates for six months? It’s a worry weighing heavily on some students, including scholar-athletes.

The Washington Post obtained audio of Southeastern Conference officials and football players discussing the upcoming fall season. One player, Ole Miss linebacker MoMo Sanogo, “asked the officials on the call why his school planned to bring thousands of students to campus for fall classes. Sanogo said he has four classes per week and he fears some of those classmates will go to bars and parties at night, then unknowingly infect football players during class.” (PAC-12 players cited safety in an open letter published over the weekend.)

Some schools, like Penn State, think they can get students to avoid risks. According to WPSU, “the university is asking all students to electronically sign a compact saying they understand the risks and expectations of returning to campus.”

At Rice University in Texas, President David Leebron told Politico the school will crack down on students who don’t follow coronavirus rules. “[W]e’re going to have serious enforcement. What I said in my letter to the campus was that people found in serious or belligerent or repeated violation of the rules will be separated from the university. We’re going to be serious about this, and it can’t be perfect, and you can’t please folks 100 percent of the time, and some of the rules are going to be violated around the edges.”

Many schools are placing a lot of faith in being able to test students and faculty regularly for coronavirus. But will testing work? The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “Some faculty have noted that testing alone isn’t enough and that wait times for test results can be a week or more, likely too long to stop significant spread. Several campuses in the region, including Lafayette College in Easton and Dickinson College in Carlisle, scrapped plans for in-person classes earlier this month in part because of testing lags.”

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Best of the rest

A voter drops off their mail-in ballot prior to the primary election, in Willow Grove, Pa., Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

A voter drops off their mail-in ballot prior to the primary election, in Willow Grove, Pa., Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

  • The Pa. Department of State issued its report on the June 2 primary over the weekend, a document that includes a list of suggested fixes to the state election code ahead of the November election. Emily Previti breaks down the report in this story for PA Post. She also filed a quick piece on Friday about Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement that the state will cover the postage costs for all mail-in ballots this fall.

  • Today is the deadline for third-party presidential candidates to file to be on the November ballot in Pennsylvania. That’s why Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian Party nominee, was in western Pa. this weekend. She was there to gather signatures from voters; 5,000 are required, along with a $200 filing fee. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has more about who Jorgensen is.

  • Almost 66 percent of households in Pennsylvania have responded to the 2020 Census. But that number is an average, and some communities are well behind. That’s prompting a unique approach in the Philadelphia area, where caravans are rolling through undercounted areas to urge people to come out and complete the forms. WHYY has the story. Meanwhile, this project from Headwaters Economics allows you to see which counties in each state are at risk for undercounting BlacksLatinos and Asians.

  • Two Allentown city council members are expected to be the target of a censure petition to be filed by a fellow councilmember, WLVR reports. That councilmember, Ed Zucal plans, “to introduce a resolution to reprimand fellow members Ce-Ce Gerlach and Joshua Siegel. It stems from their participation in Black Lives Matter events in the city. That agenda should be released Monday.”

  • Longtime Committee of Seventy head Fred Voight passed away last week from pancreatic cancer. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Chris Brennan notes Voight’s expertise in election laws and procedures. When he retired from the committee in 2005, he went to work for the city’s board of commissioners. KYW News Radio published this story last year when Voight retired from his job with the city.

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