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Updated: June 5, 2020

Maine college leaders map out plan for safely reopening this fall

Thomas College students on moving-in day File photo courtesy / Thomas College Moving-in day at Thomas College in 2019, an academic year that started very differently from how it is ending.

With virtual and drive-in graduation season in full swing, Maine's higher education leaders have mapped out a plan for safely reopening campuses this fall.

The seven-page plan, released Tuesday, lays out strategies and practices for how Maine's 38 colleges and universities can resume operations in the upcoming academic year.

While the aim is to give priority to in-person, on-campus experiences and other learning modes, the blueprint calls for flexibility, responsiveness, empathy and science, in adapting to changing circumstances and contingencies.

The plan suggests institutions make calendar and scheduling adjustments, including phased return-to-campus options, new course scheduling options and tweaks to semester breaks and end dates.

Should schools need to shut down again for health reasons, recommendations including expanding online options, remote learning arrangements and other innovations in instruction to meet evolving needs of students, faculty and staff.

The blueprint was crafted by a group led by University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy as a common guide for all the state's schools of higher education. 

Together they educate more than 72,600 students and employ more than 20,000 regular and student employees, and have an economic impact of $4.5 billion including the multiplier effect of spending by students, employees and visitors to the state.

Malloy said the schools acted swiftly in March to protect students by closing campuses and switching to online education.

“Our colleges and universities put student and community health first this spring, sending students home and finishing the semester at a distance to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 infection,” he said in a news release.

"Higher education is essential to Maine and its future. The priorities and best practices we have included in our reopening principles are tools our institutions will pursue in their planning to improve safety, manage incidents of infection, and flexibly adhere to civil authority guidance that must continue to adapt to protect public health.”

The framework is also intended to inform the schools' collaboration with state and public health partners, and was shared with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, before a hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill about college reopenings.

“One day soon science will develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Until that vaccine is proven effective and widely available, public and student health have to be a daily priority for college leaders,” said James Dlugos, president Saint Joseph’s College and of the Maine Independent College Association and a member of the working group that crafted the reopening roadmap.

“The reopening framework captures our best thinking on prevention strategies and sets expectations about how campus life will have to be different so we can operate safely and respond swiftly to the evolving COVID-19 threat."

Besides Malloy and Dlugos, other members of the working group are Jim Thelen, UMS chief of staff and general counsel; Joan Ferrini-Mundy, University of Maine president; President David Daigler of the Maine Community College System; Clayton Spencer, president of Bates College and a 2018 Mainebiz Woman to Watch; and Joshua Hamilton, University of New England provost.

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