UAF Admit Day

A student carries an information packet while taking a tour of campus during the UAF New Admit Day for incoming students Friday morning, June 14 2019.

As Gov. Mike Dunleavy rolls out a plan to reopen the state almost completely, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen said the state's only university system will be taking a "more conservative approach" to reopening.

University administrators, joint governance members and leadership officials have crafted a five-step plan for reopening the university with the institution currently sitting in phase A. Onsite operations will increase gradually with each phase, Johnsen explained.

The difficulty remains in the fact that the university system presents all four risk factors that contribute to higher likelihood of virus spread. These include group housing, mass gatherings and groupings in classrooms, travel by students and employees and a younger population that is scientifically more likely to be asymptomatic while having the virus.

The hope is to reach phase C by the start of fall term, Johnsen said. That would mean more in-person classes and opening of certain gatherings spaces like the Wood Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

This means, in theory, that most classes with hopefully in-person with some still remaining online, on-campus housing will be available, additional student events may be permitted, employees would be able to return to on-site work and public spaces will be available.

All this will include taking extra precautions though, Johnsen added. This includes higher levels of hygiene and safety precautions, regularly cleaning spaces, tracking COVID-19 cases within the university community, allowing for the availability of quarantine or isolation housing if needed and encouraged face covering, hand washing and physical distancing.

A full plan released this week by the university can be found at www.bit.ly/3bMQrgQ.

While the university's almost total shutdown came swiftly, bringing with it the difficulties that a rapid transition into all online learning presented to teachers and students, Johnsen noted that it hasn't been all bad. More than 3,000 students graduated from the university this spring, he added.

It remains to be seen how many students return in the fall, however. No tuition changes, including decreases or refunds for in-person classes that were rapidly turned into distance courses, are in the works, Johnsen said.

The university reported an overall drop in enrollment last fall prior to the onset of the pandemic.

The state's higher education institution is not the only one making loose plans for the fall.

Alaska Department of Education Commissioner Michael Johnson joined Johnsen and the governor at a Wednesday news conference to outline some changes that will be made to the state's K-12 education system as well.

In recent weeks, school districts around the state have been tasked with working in partnership with the state to craft a plan for the beginning of school in the fall.

The plans will vary based on location, risk level and individual needs and will take into consideration access for distance and online learning –– an issue that plagues more remote areas of the state even in the best circumstances.

"What we want is a school year where learning happens whatever the situation," Johnson said.

These plans will involve communicating with families, teachers and students to gain insight into specific needs.

"August does not have to be March," Johnson said, referencing the closure of schools when COVID-19 hit Alaska in March. "We still have many challenges ahead of us, but now we have time to plan."

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.