JACKSON - The Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning voted to reopen campuses this fall during a meeting on Thursday morning.
The board unanimously approved a resolution directing the state's eight public universities to "make plans to resume traditional operations on their campuses in the Fall of 2020."
That includes offering as many in-person classes as possible while taking into consideration guidance from the federal government, Mississippi State Department of Health and any executive orders from Gov. Tate Reeves.
“Providing a safe environment for all students and employees is paramount,” IHL Vice President Dr. Ford Dye said. “We urge the universities to take prudent precautions in planning for resuming traditional operations and make adjustments as needed, based on recommendations from health experts.”
IHL voted in mid-March to extend spring break for a week and move all classes online for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, beginning on March 23.
IHL's Safe Start Task Force, established by Commissioner Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr. in late-April, is now developing a system-level plan for starting and completing the fall 2020 semester in the safest and most effective way.
“While this is a fluid situation and there are many unknowns at this point, our goal is to provide the best academic experience in the safest manner possible," Rankins said.
The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University had previously indicated that they would resume in-person instruction in the fall.
UM Chancellor Glenn F. Boyce said in a letter to students on April 29 that, “the university’s status for the fall 2020 semester has not changed for all classes on the Oxford and regional campuses, and we remain committed to pursuing all possible ways to resume in-person instruction.”
Since then, the university has developed a Future Planning Task Force led by Provost Noel Wilkin and consisting of nearly 50 administrators, faculty and staff to develop an operational framework for the fall 2020 semester.
UM's plans will be announced no later than June 30, Boyce said.
MSU President Mark E. Keenum said recently that the university is “fully committed” to welcoming students back to campus this fall, and specific new operating guidelines are being developed.
In addition to IHL's task force, the university has created its own COVID-19 task force that is focused on fostering a safe environment for the return of MSU students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus within the confines of federal and state government guidance and the leadership of public health agencies.
Local community colleges like Northeast Mississippi Community College and Itawamba Community College have also announced plans for in-person classes this fall.
NEMCC President Dr. Ricky G. Ford said earlier this week that his cabinet is studying the possibility of beginning the semester in early August to finish classes before Thanksgiving.
The tentative schedule would have fall 2020 classes beginning on Aug. 3 with classes and final exams ending by Nov. 20, the week before Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, ICC plans to return to face-to-face instruction for its summer classes in July, along with offering online and live-streamed options.
“The face-to-face opportunities during the July session will enable ICC to progress to a fall semester that is as normal as possible,” ICC President Dr. Jay Allen said. “After months of adapting to changes daily, we all seek a sense of normalcy. We can’t wait until students are back in the classrooms, on the athletic fields or courts and engaged in activities. This is the first step.”