Whitworth University details plans for students to return to campus

SPOKANE, Wash. — It’s not just younger kids facing an uncertain time going back to school this fall. Local colleges are evolving plans as well.

Whitworth University is opting for a mix of online and in-person learning.

Sophomore Alyssa West was happy to hear she wouldn’t have to only take online classes this year. She heads back to campus in a few weeks.

“I’m actually super excited,” West said.

West is working toward a career as a doctor. Even though she’s a serious student, online classes last spring at the height of the stay-home order weren’t easy for her.

Whitworth will move to a mixed model of learning this fall where students take some classes on campus and others online.Flower Basket On Whitworth Campus

The university will require students to wear masks inside. People will also need to wear a face covering outside when social distancing is not possible.

Classes will be limited to 50 or fewer students, according to the university’s website. While West is a little nervous about being back around so many other people, she has faith in her school’s system.

“It’s concerning, but I think that Whitworth will do what they can to make sure that we’re all safe,” West said.

Randy Michaelis is a key part of forming that plan. He leads Whitworth’s COVID-19 Response Team. He said the university developed a new partnership that promises fast test results for students and staff who think they have COVID-19.

“For our signs and symptoms students, [the lab has] committed to a turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours because that is key for our ability to be able to stay in front of something,” Michaelis said.

The university will allow full capacity in dorms, aside from the 80 beds set aside for quarantine, if needed. Michaelis said Whitworth also has a specialized team with contact tracers, too. They will act as the initial response team.

“Their job is going to be the first contact. So if there is a concern about COVID, they’ll go to that team and that team will be able to respond,” Michaelis said.

Michaelis noted that the Spokane Regional Health District has been guiding school leaders through this transition. He said they will continue to monitor the situation with the health district to make decisions throughout the year.

Some major schools in the Northwest, including Washington State, announced they’ll be having students learn from home this fall. When asked to respond to criticism that Whitworth is not making the same choice, Michaelis said he understands people’s stance, but urges them to consider the unique position the small Christian university is in.

“If there is any college that can make this work, or university, it would be Whitworth. We are small enough to be agile,” Michaelis said.

Michaelis estimated that at full capacity, residents halls only hold a total of 1,200 students, far fewer than schools like WSU.

Now, Michaelis is counting on students and staff to responsibly return to campus and stay flexible.

“I wish it were different, but I think, come prepared to be part of the community, to find that Whitworth that you’ve always loved,” Michaelis said.

That’s what West is hoping to do, feeling confident in her school’s plans.

“I’m really happy that Whitworth decided to go back,” West said.

Classes resume September 9.

CLICK HERE to read more about Whitworth’s plans to reopen.

RELATED: Spokane Public Schools to begin 2020-2021 school year with full-time distance learning