And, Frederick acknowledged, the plans are subject to change.
“I am pleading with you to be understanding, patient and flexible,” Frederick wrote. “The future has a myriad of unknowns that makes static decision making nearly impossible.”
It is not clear at this point what proportion of classes will be offered in person, but students, faculty and staff with underlying health conditions or concerns over transmission will be allowed to work and learn remotely, Frederick said. Officials plan to share more details about course offerings next month.
Students who take face-to-face classes will do so until Nov. 24, when the campus will break for Thanksgiving and shutter until spring, Frederick said. Many colleges and universities have adopted similar schedules to limit movement to and from campus, hopefully reducing the threat of students getting infected while traveling.
“The two months of most concern are December and February,” Frederick said in an interview in late May, noting the usual influenza season may coincide with a second wave of the novel coronavirus.
Students reacted to the announcement on social media, after days of sharing memes that criticized the university’s delayed response. Officials previously told students they would share fall semester plans in mid-June.
“It’s not a bad plan,” said Folasade Fashina, a rising junior majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in bioethics. “It seems like they were trying to take into consideration what everybody wanted.”
But, she said, she’s concerned about what might happen when thousands of students return to the Northwest Washington campus. Young people are helping drive an increase in infections across the country, health officials have said, and college athletes returning to campus have been testing positive in large numbers. The nation on Wednesday documented its highest single-day caseload: 38,115 new infections.
“There’s the worry of people coming back and pretending things are back to normal,” Fashina said, adding that her peers may fall into habits that pose health risks — like going out for brunch or partying. “That’s not only putting our peers but the D.C. community in danger.”
Faculty across the country have raised concerns about risking their health to teach in person. But Justin Hansford, a law professor and director of Howard’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, said he’s happy with the flexibility of the plan, particularly for people with health problems.
“I have asthma, so I have to think about whether it makes sense for me to be teaching in person,” he said. “It’s a tough decision to have to make.”
Hansford teaches a civil rights lawyering clinic and is usually able to take students on field trips. He has designed the course to be interactive and provide students opportunities to collaborate on projects.
“We’re trying our best to re-create that as much as possible,” he said.
The university, in an effort to keep students as distanced as possible, will limit those in on-campus dorms to one roommate. Officials have not determined how many beds will be offered, but freshmen and sophomores will be given priority, Alonda Thomas, a spokeswoman for the university, said in an email.
The virus poses a unique risk to Howard, a historically black university situated in a historically black neighborhood. Health and social inequities put people of color at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus, and black people are more likely to be hospitalized with complications from the virus than white people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Frederick said he will provide face masks and sanitizing agents to faculty, students and staff as part of a university care package.
“Our responsibility to protect our community is a sacred one,” Frederick wrote to the community.