Students returned to school at SMU in early September. While new cases of COVID-19 in Dallas County are steadying, school openings and fewer capacity restrictions has some public health officials on alert. Bret Redman

Education

Here Is What Colleges in Dallas-Fort Worth Are Doing About COVID This Fall

Most area colleges are urging students and faculty to wear masks, but only one (so far) is requiring it.

The latest surge in COVID-19 cases has thrown a wrench into many plans heading into fall 2021. Institutions have to be nimble. Mask mandates that were dropped months ago are coming back now that the more contagious delta variant of the virus is running rampant across North Texas.

All of which is to say that policies are changing fast. Late last week, when I first started asking Dallas-Fort Worth area colleges about their COVID-19 policies for the fall, Texas Christian University pointed me to a COVID-19 page web page linking to a July 28 letter that noted “face coverings are optional” for the fall semester. On Tuesday, that site was updated: Face masks must be worn in “all indoor common areas such as classrooms and meeting and event spaces.”

TCU, a private university, is not beholden to an order from Gov. Greg Abbott preventing local governments and schools accepting state funding from imposing mask mandates. That order didn’t stop Dallas ISD from announcing this week that it will require masks on school campuses. But the order was cited by several public universities in the area that are not requiring masks this fall. (For now.)

I reached out to each of the following colleges individually. While one did not respond, I was in most cases able to find their COVID-19 policies for the fall online. Until these plans change (and they might!) here is how colleges and universities in North Texas are approaching their fall semesters during COVID.

Southern Methodist University

Per the university’s communications team:

SMU is returning to fully in-person classes, campus activities and regular operations for Fall 2021– with some key exceptions, options and flexibility to maintain a healthy and safe campus.

SMU is strongly encouraging but not requiring vaccines. Our focus is to continue making vaccinations readily available on our campus to students, faculty, staff and their families, and we are asking our campus community to voluntarily report their vaccination status.

COVID tests are not required, but they are available through our student health center.

During the spring semester, we offered students a one-time $10 gift card to report their vaccination status. This fall a cross sectional group that includes students – SMU Community Action Network (SMU CAN) – will be looking at ways to encourage vaccinations and mutual respect for personal decisions, such as wearing masks.

Masks are no longer required campuswide. Faculty can require masks in their classroom, if they choose, with notice to students in their course syllabus.

Update (8/12/21): SMU President Gerald Turner said in a letter Wednesday that masks will now be required in indoor public spaces on campus, including classrooms and commons areas. He adds:

We continue our essential pandemic protocols such as contact tracing and case management to identify and offer resources to those who test positive for COVID-19.

For our residential students, we have set aside 44 double-occupancy rooms for isolation spaces and will provide delivery of food for three meals a day during the required 10-day stay for positive cases. A quarantine will also be required for those identified as a close contact of a positive case unless the student demonstrates proof of vaccination.Residential students can choose to isolate and quarantine on campus or at another location of their choice. An easy way to show proof of vaccination is to upload an image of your vaccine card to a secure online portal at the Dr. Bob Smith Health Center. If you are a returning student who was vaccinated last year on campus, that vaccination will be automatically added to your record.

The University of Texas at Dallas

The University of Texas at Dallas is complying with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order preventing public institutions from requiring masks or vaccines, but the university is encouraging students to get vaccinated and to wear a mask indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. Students who are not vaccinated will have to meet some additional requirements. According to an Aug. 2 letter sent to the student body by the vice president of student affairs:

  • Students who have not self-reported their vaccination will be expected to complete the Daily Health Check each day, even when not on campus. The Daily Health Check is a short survey that includes questions about the status of your health. The Daily Health Check will be mandatory. Those students who do not comply will be referred to the Office of Community Standards and Conduct for disciplinary action.

  • Students who have not self-reported their vaccination will be required to participate in the Proactive Testing Program. More information will be sent out regarding this requirement in the coming weeks.

  • Students who have not self-reported their vaccination will be required to quarantine if they are considered a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID.

Paul Quinn College

Paul Quinn College did not respond by deadline, and information on the college’s COVID-19 policies posted on its website doesn’t appear up to date. Michael Sorrell, the college’s president, did tweet last week that Paul Quinn will be adopting a plan “very similar” to Rice University, which is requiring masks and occasional COVID testing.

Dallas College

Dallas College campuses are “fully open” heading into the fall semester, according to the college’s coronavirus web page:

We have returned to normal instruction, including face-to-face, online, and hybrid course options.

While they are no longer required, Dallas College students and employees are strongly encouraged to wear masks while at our locations or events.

Dallas College continues to monitor the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and its impact on our community. We are following guidance from Dallas County Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Students planning to attend in-person classes will need to meet our meningitis vaccinations requirements. Vaccinations are now available on campus with an appointment.

Update (8/13/21): Dallas College will now require students, employees, and visitors to wear masks while on campus or at college events.

Collin College

The college’s fall “restart guidelines,” set in May, call for in-person classes returning at 100 percent student capacity. From the college’s COVID-19 FAQ:

Due to the governor’s executive order, the college may not require the use of masks, but we will leave it to the discretion of each student and employee if they choose to wear a mask. We are making every effort to order more masks so that masks can be made available in each classroom, and KN95 masks may be available for faculty upon request.

As we have been doing, we will have sanitizing stations at the entrances and post signage regarding masks’ availability.  We also will continue providing cleaning supplies in the classrooms and the enhanced cleaning by custodial staff. Our COVID-19 Statistics page continues to be updated weekly for self-reported cases by students and employees and is available on our website. Finally, please note that the college continues to facilitate voluntary vaccine clinics open to everyone, including the public.

The University of North Texas

UNT is not requiring masks (Abbott’s order) but is encouraging everyone, “especially those who are not vaccinated,” to wear them. It urges students, faculty, and staffers to get vaccinated. More from its online COVID-19 alerts:

UNT safety committees continue to review federal and state guidance and making recommendations for how we apply the rapidly evolving changes to our campus operations. The health and safety of our UNT community continues to be our top priority, and UNT leadership will continue to carefully review the latest advice from public health experts and adjust our plans accordingly.

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