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Higher education leaders plots course for fall

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Walla Walla University

Walla Walla County’s three institutes for higher learning — Walla Walla University, Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College — are making plans for how to proceed with classes this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders from all three institutions are hopeful they can resume in-person education.

Walla Walla University plans to have face-to-face classes, Aaron Nakamura, WWU’s director of marketing and university relations confirmed.

“A team here was appointed and continues to meet in order to actively develop a plan toward our goal of resuming in-person classroom instruction,” Nakamura said. “The plan is expected to include necessary added practices and procedures, not only to ensure that the resumption of our classroom instruction will be smooth, but also to ensure that our commitment to the optimal health and safety of our university community is evident.”

Nakamura also referred to a May statement from university president John McVay. In it, McVay says the school will have local health officials help with routine testing options to detect an outbreak and treatment options should one occur.

Whitman College spokesperson Gillian Frew said her school is also planning to move forward with in-person instruction — with safety in mind.

“We are taking steps to ensure the health and safety of all our students, faculty and staff,” Frew said.

And Whitman will be prepared for the possibility of an outbreak, she said.

“Of course, this (situation) requires careful planning and attention to detail, and we have a number of committees dedicated to coming up with contingencies for all scenarios, including distance learning if deemed necessary,” Frew said.

However, Frew is hopeful that preventive measures will stop that from becoming necessary. The college is requiring face coverings indoors or in shared spaces and will be providing free masks to students, faculty and staff.

“We are considering testing and contact-tracing methods in partnership with community health and using new technology such as smartphone apps,” Frew said. “It is likely that we will test everyone upon their return to campus and continue to test by random sampling throughout the semester.”

Whitman has canceled study abroad for the fall semester. Several summer courses have been suspended or moved online.

Walla Walla Community College President Chad Hickox also said he remains hopeful that classes will occur in person. However, he stressed, WWCC will be ready if that isn’t possible.

“Should the spread of the coronavirus require a transition to virtual/remote instruction, as has been the case in the spring quarter, that decision will be made as early as possible, will be communicated widely, and will remain in effect for the entirety of the quarter,” Hickox said.

“As has happened this spring, we have systems in place to allow face-to-face instruction to occur in labs and shops for those programs that require hands-on learning, even if the majority of learning should have to take place virtually.”

Hickox says the school is maintaining its “virtual assistance” front desks for most student services, such as financial aid.

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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.