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Return to Campus for Fall 2020

Posted by:
August 3, 2020

To: Students and Families
From: Office of the President

Dear Lutes and families,

As we’ve spent this summer planning for a wide range of scenarios, the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff have been front of mind. This complicated moment poses different challenges to different institutions, taking countless variables into account. Some universities have announced plans to be fully remote; many more have announced plans to maintain fully in-person or blended education. Every university and every situation is different — sometimes even within a shared community.

The message from our students has been clear: you want to return to campus this fall while remaining safe and healthy. Most of you would appreciate the option for blended learning, combining online and in-person classroom, lab, and studio experiences. To date, about 3% of students have requested that they be allowed to learn entirely remotely, and we are glad to accommodate those requests. Taken together, all of you want an education that aligns with your individual circumstances. There’s no better place to make that happen than PLU.

Below, you’ll find a summary of our plan for a thoughtful return to campus, with flexible options for everyone. This plan prioritizes safety, makes every effort to mitigate risk, and provides us an opportunity to be together as a campus community in meaningful ways this fall.

We are acutely aware of the increase in infection rates in Pierce County over the past month. The state and county are reinforcing preventive measures and re-implementing several restrictions to reverse these trends. We have partnered with the Tacoma–Pierce County Health Department from the very beginning of this pandemic and have worked with them to design our mitigation strategies and testing process, and they have supported our plans to return to campus.

In our email on July 24th we shared that providing in-person learning this fall depended on securing rapid testing for students coming to campus. With the assistance of key partnerships, we have been able to secure rapid testing for PLU (plans for which are detailed below). With this testing in place and full participation from you and other members of the PLU community in all public-health directives and mitigation measures, we are ready to return to campus.

As you review the following information, please consider your needs as a learner and student, and determine which combination of options will be best for you. Please also know that once the semester has begun, if we believe that our campus community’s safety has been compromised, we will act swiftly to alter our plans to ensure your well-being.
We know this won’t be the semester you imagined or hoped for. Just as we have experienced changes in our daily lives during this pandemic, there are hallmark elements of a vibrant semester at PLU that we just won’t be able to offer safely. That’s why, later in this email, we’ll share more about our plan to offer a PLUS year — one additional year tuition-free to all undergraduate students enrolled full-time, and free continuing education opportunities for graduate students, to be taken after their currently scheduled degree completion.
This semester is going to be different. It’s going to be challenging — there’s just no way around that. We will all be managing the stress and anxiety that accompanies rapid change and highly unusual circumstances. But our staff, faculty, and alumni stand ready to support you through it all. We’re going to be there for you, both on campus and off.

Return to Campus

Beginning the semester
We’re excited to welcome you to the first day of class on Tuesday, September 8th.

Our plan to safely welcome students back to campus on time requires that we begin the semester with a one-week period of remote learning for all classes, regardless of whether those courses will ultimately be blended or fully online. Doing so allows for adequate testing and quarantine periods for our campus community, and it reflects the current health conditions and guidance in Pierce County. Because we’ll be learning remotely that first week, faculty will be in touch with you by September 4th to let you know where and how to “show up” for their classes.

In week two, we will begin to move to in-person learning for blended courses as long as doing so is supported by conditions and health authorities. Your faculty care about your health and your education, and we’ve asked them to determine a timeline for introducing in-person instruction that supports their course content and lesson plans—for example, it may make more sense to complete a unit first. Faculty will give students a minimum of one week’s notice before the addition of any in-person learning elements.

Flexible learning environment
Our phasing-in to campus learning will also be shaped by the nature of the courses. A select number of classes have been identified as priorities for in-person learning because their learning outcomes can most readily be achieved face-to-face. Those courses — which include some labs, clinical and performance-based experiences, and formative community-building classes for first-year students — will phase back in first.

More in-person elements of blended classes may be added as public-health guidance indicates it is appropriate to increase population density on campus. Additional in-person elements will be implemented by individual faculty in the manner that best suits their courses and learning objectives.

Plans and potential pivots
It’s important to underscore that our return to the classroom may not follow a straightforward path. While our campus experienced a pivot in one direction last March — going from fully in-person to fully remote learning — the potential pivots in Fall 2020 may happen in different ways and at different times.

In addition to starting the term remotely, we will also be ending the term remotely. Your courses will continue after Thanksgiving break, though in-person instruction will conclude when the university closes for Thanksgiving break. The two weeks of instruction following Thanksgiving, and finals week, will be remote. During this time, the campus will remain open and housing and dining options will remain available. (See below for more specifics about campus housing and dining.)

Other scenarios, such as presumed positive cases among students, faculty, and their respective households, hold the potential to be more unpredictable and disruptive. If you or a member of one of your in-person courses tests positive for COVID-19, or if a member of your household does, you can expect a required quarantine of up to 14 days.

My community, my responsibility
Fellow Lutes, these possibilities underscore again that the key to being able to complete any in-person learning ultimately hinges on personal responsibility and individual decision-making: wearing face coverings, washing hands, and avoiding large groups are essential. Our ability to rejoin in-person learning is contingent upon all of our behavior.

We are PLU together
One of the beautiful things about the PLU community is the commitment to connection and care lived by your faculty and staff across our campus. The student body and 40,000-strong alumni network reflect and enhance this sense of community. We don’t know how the pandemic will proceed this fall or how often in-person learning may be disrupted. With these uncertainties in mind (and not even considering individual student’s course schedules), we want to name upfront the possibility that most or even all of your learning could be remote this fall. But no matter what happens, you won’t be alone.

As we work for the collective care and well-being of our Lute community and neighbors, we know this: whether we’re learning on campus or remotely, masked up, physically distant, or whatever else we may need to be to face this challenge, we are PLU together.

Transparency and care
We are laying this out as transparently as possible because we know from many of you that you are balancing the competing desires of wanting to return to in-person campus experiences while simultaneously safeguarding your own health and safety and that of your loved ones.

We also know that your decisions about on-campus or near-campus living are dependent on these variables. We hope that by laying out our plans, including our commitment to follow public-health guidance and the invitation to learn remotely for the term (see “Getting connected with remote learning” below), we will give you the confidence you need to make whatever decisions that are best for you.

Comprehensive Plan for COVID-19 Testing

Testing options for campus
Guided by public-health guidelines, it is essential that we have the ability to conduct rapid results testing to begin in-person learning. We have secured three primary avenues for testing on campus, and we’re working to open up even more options for students, faculty, and staff.

#1: In partnership with the Tacoma–Pierce County Health Department and the county Emergency Management team, we will be testing all residential students in the first week of classes, and we’ll have options for commuter students.

#2: The county will assist us in hosting frequent batch ‘surveillance’ testing across campus. Throughout the semester, we’ll have regularly scheduled batch testing for large groups of students, faculty and staff. We’ll also conduct batch testing for smaller sub-populations of our campus community such as Athletics.

#3: PLU’s Health Center has obtained a rapid-testing device that will produce results in 15 minutes, along with a ready supply of testing kits. The center will prioritize students who feel sick, as well as the close contacts of positive cases.

We will be publishing a COVID-19 testing guide and calendar in the coming days.

PLU also offers non-rapid—longer than 48-hour turnaround—testing through our Health Center in partnership with a local lab, which provides a backstop to those students for whom rapid testing is not indicated. In addition to these established testing capabilities, PLU continues to pursue additional testing options in order to provide expanded and back-up capabilities for students, faculty, and staff. Details of additional testing capabilities will be published when available.

Travel-related self-quarantine guidance
Because we now have access to robust testing for students on campus, we are modifying our self-quarantine requirement of two weeks prior to leaving for campus, and are no longer asking students to arrive early on campus based on their mode of travel or place of departure. Our hope is that you’ll make the safety-conscious decision to stay as close to home as possible within those 14 days, and plan your farewells with friends to occur prior to that period. All students are still expected to complete the daily pre-arrival Wellness Check-In, beginning 14 days prior to coming to campus.

Rooms at the ready
If needed, PLU will have a residence hall wing set up with a care team responsible for the comprehensive coordination of care and support for any student, residential or commuter, who needs to be placed in quarantine or isolation while attending PLU. In case more rooms are needed, PLU is partnering with the Pierce County COVID-19 Temporary Care Center to house any additional medically stable students requiring isolation. Any such student will be transported, have their basic needs met, and be medically supervised, at no cost to them or their family.

The Classroom Experience

The classroom will look very different in Fall 2020!

The physically-distanced classroom
Consistent with health guidelines for Washington State and Pierce County, students and faculty must wear face coverings at all times and remain six-feet apart, even for discussions. In addition to regularly scheduled cleaning, cleaning kits will be present in every classroom. Students will be expected to sanitize their desks and other shared equipment before and after use. To accommodate extra cleaning and reduce crowding in hallways, passing periods between classes will be longer.

For students whose experience will include in-person learning, please know that in addition to modifying our room capacities to accommodate physical distancing requirements, we have taken the extra precaution of assessing each learning space for air exchange. Classrooms that don’t permit safe distancing or airflow will be offline for the term.

A blended education that prepares you for the future
The classroom will also look different than in years past because, as we’ve shared in an earlier communication, we are adopting a blended learning format for Fall 2020. Blended classes combine the best parts of in-person and online instruction. In some blended classes, the online portions will comprise lectures, with discussion saved for in-person meetings; in others you’ll find the opposite, with discussions online and lectures in person. Some blended courses will have in-person components on a regular schedule (such as meetings once per week). Other courses’ in-person components will be less frequent (perhaps meeting just a couple of times a semester).

Faculty truly care about PLU students, and they are working to design impactful learning for this semester. Thus, each class’s composition and schedule will vary based on how the faculty member can best achieve the course’s learning objectives. They’ll provide you with concrete directions, so you’ll always know what the game plan and expectations are for each course.

Getting connected with remote learning
For many students, the “classroom” may be virtual for the entire term — because you’ve opted for remote learning in what is otherwise a blended class, because community health conditions warrant it, or because the university has shifted a course modality to minimize population density on campus or honor a faculty member’s personal circumstances. (If you haven’t already asked for accommodations to learn remotely, it’s not too late! Send an email to our Office of Accessibility and Accommodations at OAA@plu.edu with your request.)

Most of these shifts from in-person to blended or online happened after our registration period; to check the instructional method of your courses, click here for a priority list for in-person classes. As soon as permissible, those courses — which include some labs, clinical and performance-based experiences, and formative community-building classes for first-year students — will phase back in first.

Our online interactive schedule will reflect these and any future changes beginning August 7th.

And of course, for PLU students, the classroom experience extends to office hours, the vast majority of which will be held virtually this semester. Your faculty want to support you and connect with you – it just may need to be via a digital meeting where you talk about a question or assignment. Still personal, still connected, and still caring — just not necessarily in the same room.

Deep connections with faculty
Our faculty are ready to teach you — and teach you well — regardless of how the class is delivered. Since 2014, our faculty have trained through our intensive PLU Teaching Online (PLUTO) Institute and blended-learning programs.

We know that even with our engaging and dynamic virtual experiences that there are elements of the in-person academic experience you’ll deeply miss. That’s why we are creating the option for a PLUS Year (which you’ll read more about below) and we’re introducing two new experiences to help you forge deeper connections with our outstanding faculty.

First, every student will be assigned a faculty mentor for the 2020-21 academic year. We know student-faculty mentorship is one of the reasons you chose a small school like PLU, and it’s one of the things we do best. You’ll learn more about that in September.

Second, throughout the fall term, a Salon Series sponsored by PLU’s Wild Hope Center for Vocation will feature faculty from various departments sharing highlights of their research, stories of their vocational journeys, and reflections on the kinds of questions that keep them up at night. For those of you choosing to remain at home for the term, the Salon Series will not only keep you connected, it’ll also give you a chance to share what you love about PLU with your household members.

Residential Living

The residence halls will also look very different in Fall 2020!

The physically-distanced residence hall
As we welcome Lutes home, there are measures that need to be in place to care for you and the wellbeing of other members of our community. Consistent with the public-health guidance in Washington State, you will be required to wear face coverings when outside of your room or apartment (even when using the shared wing bathroom), participate in daily digital wellness checks, limit your contact with others, restrict visitors, participate in COVID-19 testing on a regular basis, and quarantine or isolate as directed when exposures or confirmed cases have occurred. Visit the Residential Life Approach to COVID-19 webpage for a broader accounting of expectations and limitations.

Changes to housing assignments
Because the reality of infection rates in Pierce County is different from what we anticipated it would be when some of you originally requested on-campus housing, we are revising our approach to fall housing assignments. We are in a position where we must decrease housing density in order to care for students who are required to quarantine or isolate, and in order to optimize our ability to manage any possible outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus. To do so, we must reduce the number of students who live on campus this fall. This is one of multiple interacting mitigation measures that must be in place to decrease the chance of infections on campus.

Our best case scenario for reducing housing density is for every student residing on campus to be assigned a single room, limiting close contact in common living spaces and shared bathrooms. This means that we will have significantly less capacity for on-campus residents during the fall term. We’re asking you to help in achieving this goal by reconsidering your plan to live on campus during the fall and, if your circumstances allow, choosing to live off-campus or at home. We recognize that not all PLU students will have a viable alternative residence in which to live and learn, and are asking that those who are able provide space for those with this need. To further assist students in seeking suitable alternative living accommodations, the University Residency Requirement has been suspended for the 2020-21 academic year.

A change in your decision about fall housing does not impact your ability to live on campus during J-Term and spring, should public-health conditions permit, nor will it incur any cancellation penalty. All students who have applied for residential housing this fall must complete this survey no later than 11:59 pm on Wednesday, August 5th, 2020, to update us on your housing plans and requests, and to indicate your ability to assist us in achieving this goal. If we have requests for on-campus housing that exceed availability, assignments may be prioritized by residence life staff, and will include consideration of student and family needs. Students requesting housing will be notified by close of business on Monday, August 10th, 2020, whether their request has been approved. If approved, notice of residence hall assignment will be communicated at the same time.

Since we’re asking students and families to reconsider their housing plans, we have shifted our billing dates accordingly; you can now expect to receive your bills for fall semester by Saturday, August 15th with a new due date of Monday, August 31st.

Post-Thanksgiving housing
By decreasing our density, following public-health guidelines, and all doing our part to keep our community safe, we anticipate being able to offer housing and dining through the scheduled end of the semester, even as the university shifts to fully remote instruction after the Thanksgiving break.

Residential students choosing to depart campus at Thanksgiving for the remainder of the semester will receive a prorated refund. Those remaining on campus during and after Thanksgiving break will have continued access to campus facilities and activities, including — but not limited to — campus restaurants, some campus recreation and the library. Residents planning to return to on-campus living for J-Term and/or spring will be permitted to leave their belongings in their room. Should the university shift to fully remote instruction at any time during the semester as the result of an outbreak on campus and/or changed public-health requirements, on-campus residence may be further restricted.

Community connections
We recognize that for many of you, your residential experience is important to how you may experience belonging at PLU. We know that a sense of community does not require physical presence, and that structured learning communities, pop-up virtual gathering spaces, and purposeful opportunities for virtual gatherings with staff, faculty, and peers can contribute meaningfully to that sense. You can expect to see expanded opportunities for connection in the fall, and you will be able to easily find a dynamic schedule of options using our new app in Guidebook.

The PLUS Year

Thoughtful care as an essential aspect of our mission is a point of pride at PLU. That’s why we are pleased to announce that PLU will offer undergraduate students a “PLUS Year” — an additional year at PLU, tuition-free.

In simple terms, all undergraduate students enrolled full-time this academic year, and who remain continuously enrolled — regardless of class standing — will be eligible for two tuition-free semesters immediately following their anticipated degree completion date. Graduate students enrolled full-time at PLU this fall will be eligible for continuing education credits upon completion of their graduate degree program.

We understand the importance to our students of the countless activities, productions, competitions, and other community events that are temporarily on hiatus. It’s our hope that this free additional year will ensure that all of our students will get every opportunity to experience our university at its fullest and most vibrant, while maintaining the momentum of their education in the year ahead.

We expect students to take advantage of their PLUS Year in a lot of different ways. For some, it will mean an extra semester on the field or the stage. Others will take advantage of the opportunity to study away prior to their PLUS Year, engage in additional research with a favorite faculty member, use the extra time to complete your intended degree, or delay graduation in order to seek an additional minor or major. We also hope that the PLUS Year will give students the flexibility to take a lighter course load during the pandemic, and give special focus to the health and well-being of themselves and those around them.

The PLUS Year is deeply consistent with the core elements of Lutheran higher education, in that it offers students additional time to learn in community while building skills in thoughtful inquiry and leadership, in order to serve and care for the common good.

Look for further details on this program in the very near future.


All of this is a lot to process, and we thank you for taking it all in. We understand that PLU’s students, families, faculty, staff, and community members are in many different places and have many different needs, sensitivities, and desires regarding this pandemic. But we hope that given the flexibility of our campus plans, and the ability to choose the teaching and learning environment that meets your needs, you find comfort. We are confident that with the comprehensiveness of our health and safety measures, focused squarely on mitigating risk to our community to the best of our ability, you may also find strength.

With great personal regards,