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Walla Walla University moves forward with plan to reopen

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Walla Walla University

Walla Walla University officials have taken a step toward reopening for face-to-face education this fall by setting the fall quarter schedule and moving it up two weeks to start on Monday, Sept. 14.

Leaders of the university had previously announced their intention to return to face-to-face instruction this fall. This latest move by the school allows the fall quarter to end before Thanksgiving.

Normally, the school would break for Thanksgiving — when many students visit home — and then reconvene for the last two weeks of the quarter before the longer winter break starts.

Aaron Nakamura, WWU’s director of marketing and university relations, said that with some medical experts anticipating a second wave of COVID-19 this fall, eliminating the travel that the Thanksgiving break would cause made sense to the task force assigned to planning the reopening.

“Our Return to Campus task force carefully considered how we could best protect the health of our campus family and avoid significant academic disruption during fall quarter,” Nakamura said. “Some of our students come to us from places that could be classified as ‘COVID hot spots.’ Some health experts believe a dangerous second round of COVID-19 is possible during fall and winter. Limiting unnecessary travel to and from our campuses could prove important to slowing the spread.”

The change is for all students at WWU’s College Place campus except students in the social work master’s degree program. This program will begin Sept. 21 — one week earlier than normal — and will conclude on Nov. 24.

The school has been working toward the return to face-to-face instruction for some time. In May, McVay announced the forming of the Return to Campus task force and said the school will have local health officials help with routine testing options to detect an outbreak and treatment options should one occur.

Now, despite a rise in new COVID-19 cases in Walla Walla County, Nakamura remains confident that the university will be able to safely reopen.

“Right now, we still plan to resume face-to-face instruction in September, and we continually monitor our local situation carefully in case alternate plans are necessary,” Nakamura said.

“Our students and their families are hopeful that Walla Walla will be a safe place to be in September, and we greatly appreciate the personal safety steps our university employees and fellow community members are taking to keep the number of cases in our valley low.”

Walla Walla County’s other higher-education institutions — Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College — have also announced intentions to return to face-to-face interaction this fall.

Whitman also previously announced it would be moving its start date up. The college, which uses the semester-based schedule rather than the quarter-based schedule used at WWU and WWCC, will start its fall semester on Aug. 24.

This move was also made to allow the semester to end before Thanksgiving.

Jeremy Burnham can be reached at jeremyburnham@wwub.com or 509-551-8896.

Reporter

Jeremy Burnham covers education and Columbia County for the Union-Bulletin. He is a recent graduate of Eastern Washington University, where he studied journalism, and is an Eastern Eagle fanatic.