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University presidents endorse return to in-person classes

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ATLANTA - Georgia’s public college and university presidents are fully onboard with plans to open campuses to in-person instruction during the upcoming fall semester.

That’s the sentiment expressed in a recent letter to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents signed by the presidents of 24 of the system’s 26 campuses.

“Resuming in-person classes this fall will be a difficult but important task, and it is one we are committed to achieving, as it serves the best interests of our students and the state of Georgia,” the letter stated. “The campus experience is an essential part of the educational growth that is critical for the overall success of our students.”

The letter comes as some K-12 school systems in Georgia are choosing to stick with online classes only this fall as a way to discourage the spread of COVID-19.

The largest school district in the state, Gwinnett County Public Schools, announced Monday that it would open Aug. 12 with online-only instruction. Atlanta Public Schools made the same decision earlier this month.

Other K-12 school systems are going with a hybrid of in-person and online classes to start the fall semester.

The university system transitioned to online-only instruction during late March and early April as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Georgia. An analysis completed early last month found the conversion went smoothly, and the system stuck with online courses during the summer semester.

However, since early April, system Chancellor Steve Wrigley and the regents have been developing plans to bring back in-person classes this fall.

“While the transition to online went well thanks to faculty, staff and students, clearly for many students it was an unsatisfying experience,” Wrigley wrote in response to a letter dated July 2 from faculty members at Georgia Tech expressing concerns about the health risks to students, staff and faculty of reopening the campus.

“The delivery of this instruction will certainly be different than last fall as accommodations are made for the medically fragile and as institutions adapt to space and other conditions unique to each campus.”

The university system announced July 7 that students, faculty, staff and visitors to the system’s 26 college and university campuses would be required to wear masks starting July 15.

The 25th signatory to the letter, University of Georgia President Jere Morehead, sent the letter on behalf of the other 24 presidents. The only president not to sign the letter, Kimberly Ballard-Washington, is serving Savannah State University in an interim role.