School Bells are Ringing (Maybe)

It’s that time of year when school bells are ringing*. This year, however, will be unlike any in our memory for students in grades K-12 through college. In-person, on-line, hybrid, staggered, and socially distanced are just some of the strategies being employed around the country.

The Cornell administration, after a very deliberative process, made the decision in early July to re-open the University for in-person study for all students, but with a complex set of rules and procedures designed to keep students, faculty and staff safe. Interestingly, this plan is significantly different from the path chosen by our Ivy compatriots which are either going all on-line or bringing back to campus only some students.

In early August, Cornell had to make an adjustment in its plan in response to a travel advisory issued by New York State. This advisory requires any person entering New York from a “hot -spot” state (currently 35 states are considered hot-spots) to quarantine in the State for 14 days. The University announced that if students were able to quarantine, great; otherwise, Cornell encouraged these “hot-spot” students to stay home. Further, the University announced that all classes would be offered in one of two formats: online or hybrid (i.e., in-person and on-line).

Students who are able are expected to begin returning to campus this week [week of Aug 17th]. Also, every student (whether they are on campus or not) is required to sign a Behavioral Compact that sets forth the expectations for student behavior in order to minimize transmission of COVID-19.

While most of the Cornell community agrees that the University’s plan is bold and “science-driven”, there is a general acknowledgement it is a high wire act with many possible outcomes, both good and bad. To understand the differing views about the reopening, check out both Cornell President Martha Pollack’s recent interview with the Ithaca Voice and a letter to the Cornell Provost written by the chair of the Cornell Assembly.

Forty-seven years ago, as we were planning on returning to campus for the last time as undergrads, the big issue was a shortage of dorm rooms resulting in students bunking in residence hall lounges and double rooms turned into triples and quads. While inconvenient and uncomfortable, it sounds almost quaint next to what our young Cornellians will be facing when they return to the Hill.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Stay safe and healthy,

*The title of Carole King’s 1962 classic  School Bells are Ringing –the world was simpler then.