Notre Dame bringing students back to campus 2 weeks early

Classes to begin week of Aug. 10; Semester to wrap before Thanksgiving break

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University of Notre Dame officials have rolled out post-coronavirus plans for students to return to campus two weeks before originally scheduled, and to end before Thanksgiving, telling staff the challenge is one “we believe we can meet.”

The Notre Dame community will return to South Bend, Indiana, to begin classes the week of Aug. 10 and will no longer have the typical October break, which will allow the university to conclude the semester before Thanksgiving, University president Rev. John Jenkins recently announced in letters to faculty and staff.

Notre Dame campus (iStock)

He called the students' return to campus “by far the most complex challenge before us.”

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“Bringing our students back is in effect assembling a small city of people from many parts of the nation and the world, who may bring with them pathogens to which they have been exposed,” Jenkins wrote in the letters. “We recognize the challenge, but we believe it is one we can meet.”

Students were asked to leave campus in the middle of March as concern surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic grew, and classes have since been held remotely, much like most other higher education institutions in the country.

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Speaking to NBC’s "Today" show on Tuesday morning, Jenkins said university faculty and staff have much work to do to prepare in the next three months, but they needed “a target to move forward.”

“Obviously there are circumstances we can’t control,” he noted. “If there is a dramatic outbreak of the corona[virus] again, then we’ll have to adapt and change, but we wanted to set a goal.”

Officials have instructed faculty to be ready for the resurgence of COVID-19 by preparing two versions of coursework – one for in-person study and another in the event that remote learning is needed, such as for those students who must be quarantined, according to on-campus news service Notre Dame News.

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The condensed schedule aims to prevent students from being exposed while away from campus during their fall and Thanksgiving breaks and then bringing the virus back to campus with them to finish out the fall semester, Jenkins explained Tuesday.

But he later clarified that the university has is not currently planning to ban students from leaving campus or going on trips during the semester.

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“I don’t think we’ve gone that far,” he said. “You know, what we’re going to do is talk to the students. I find young people, if it’s important and they believe in it, they step up and they challenge one another to step up. I believe that’s what’s going to happen.”

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There’s been no clear answer yet as to whether the Fighting Irish will take to the football field in the fall.

The university is working on plans to provide COVID-19 testing, social distancing guidelines, face mask requirements, and extensive cleaning, as well as protocols for contact tracing, isolation and quarantining, according to Notre Dame News.

“I expect extensive testing. I think that’s a critical component of making the campus safe. Masks are going to be part of it, social distancing is going to be part of it. Quarantining, if that’s necessary, if someone tests positive,” Jenkins said. “I don’t have all the details yet, but I believe with all those components, with a robust plan, we can have a safe campus where students learn and grow.”

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