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USC will reopen for fall semester with online and in-person classes, more distancing in dorms

USC will reopen this fall with several safety measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
USC will bring students back to campus this fall with several safety measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Perry C. Riddle / Los Angeles Times)

USC will bring students back to campus for the fall semester amid the coronavirus crisis with several safety measures that include both online and in-person classes, more spacing in dorms and testing for COVID-19, President Carol L. Folt announced Tuesday night.

The highly anticipated decision was certain to hearten many students, many of whom found online learning alienating, and their families who balked at paying USC’s $58,000 annual tuition and fees for classes on computers. Some students — like others throughout the country — were considering taking a gap year if USC did not resume in-person classes. The coronavirus pandemic forced campuses nationwide to send most students home and shift to online learning in March.

“We all are eager to return to campus life this fall and committed to making this decision with a great deal of care and planning,” Folt said in her message to the campus community.

USC is one of the first major universities in California to announce concrete reopening plans. Last month, the 23-campus California State University system said it would conduct mostly online classes for fall semester. The University of California is expected to announce plans for its 10 campuses this month. Officials at UC and at other colleges around the state have said they hope to offer a hybrid of in-person and online classes, with reduced density in dorms and dining halls.

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Folt said the fall semester would begin a week early, on Aug. 17, and end by Thanksgiving with no fall break. The earlier schedule is aimed at minimizing the spread of the virus as the flu season starts. Welcome activities for incoming students will begin online the week of Aug. 10, possibly with smaller in-person events.

The fall plan includes:

  • Almost every in-person class will also be offered online to provide more flexibility to students and faculty to choose. Some courses will be a mix of online large lectures with in-person discussions and labs. Some courses, such as dance, may be fully in person while others could be fully online.
  • Residence halls will reopen but the number of students per room will be reduced. On-campus dining facilities will also be modified to reduce density and contact with take-out dining options expanded.
  • Classrooms, offices, and other campus spaces are being reconfigured to accommodate physical distancing requirements. Pedestrian walkways will be marked to limit congestion.
  • USC staff will frequently clean and sanitize buildings, classes, and public spaces according to strict protocols and health and safety guidelines.
  • Testing and contact tracing will be expanded and enhanced to include all returning staff, faculty and students. The university will release more information about student testing soon, Folt said.
  • USC will require everyone to wear masks on campus and in classrooms and maintain physical distancing.

“Please understand that these plans remain contingent on several factors, including the continued spread of COVID-19, and the health orders from state and local authorities,” Folt said in the email. “So, things could change, but we are excited to move forward and to have [the students] back.”

Those who return to campus will first be required to complete educational training sessions and agree in writing to follow the campus and public health policies and guidelines. Violation of the policies will lead to disciplinary actions.

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“For our plan to succeed, our entire community must be part of the solution — Trojans caring for Trojans and for our neighbors,” Folt wrote.

The fall plan, dubbed Project Restart, was led by Provost Charles Zukoski, and involved hundreds of people working around the clock crafting plans, developing scenarios and contingencies to account for changing circumstances, Folt said.

The campus plans to release more information about move-in dates housing and registration. Decisions on when to restart concerts, performances and athletic programs are pending. USC athletics will follow both the guidance of government officials, Pac-12 Conference and NCAA rules, and the university on when and how athletes can return to campus, Folt said.

“Our health and safety procedures will be guided by the L.A. County Department of Health, and our own internal Health Policy leadership team, and will be focused on safeguarding individuals and the community,” she said. “As in all activities, the health and safety of our students and staff will always be our top priority.”


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