Franklin College students will return in August, but specifics are still being ironed out

As is the case with most plans in the age of coronavirus, Franklin College’s are subject to change.

For now, leaders at the private liberal arts college in Franklin plan to welcome students back to campus in August. What exactly that will look like is still being worked out.

In-person classes were called off in March, when the pandemic resulted in a state-mandated closure of educational facilities. Since then, Franklin College President Kerry Prather and college administrators have been mulling over the different ways they can protect staff and students, but not stray away from their plan to return to a traditional learning environment.

With an expected student body of fewer than 1,000 students this fall, Franklin College will not have to navigate how to hold classes in large lecture halls. The college also has the flexibility to move some classes to larger areas to allow for more social distancing, Prather said.

“We’ve been working for two months now on our reopening plan for the fall, and we have four different working groups on campus—combinations of faculty, staff and administrators,” Prather said. “There’s an overarching logistical group dealing with every aspect of how to safely do what you do, and mitigation options, both required and recommended.”

An infections response group is preparing protocols and strategies for what the college will do if a staff member or student tests positive for COVID-19. That group is planning quarantine and isolation locations and consulting with medical partners at Johnson Memorial Hospital, he said.

Another group is dealing with the college’s athletic strategy. That group is consulting with team physicians, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference about ways to continue sports going into the upcoming school year. If athletic events do take place, college officials have not made a decision yet about whether they will be played with or without fans in attendance, Prather said.

The fourth and final group is looking at financial contingencies of the coronavirus pandemic and how the college will navigate any financial difficulties without being caught off guard, he said.

The return to school will likely include masks, social distancing and a change in common area protocols, he said.

“We spent a lot of time talking about how best to protect vulnerable people in the population, either due to age or underlying conditions; there’s lots of ways in doing that. Unless there is a development that prevents it, our intention is to provide as close to normal as we can while implementing safety precautions, such as masks in classrooms, different protocols where groups typically gather, and going through those one by one,” Prather said.

“The most common adjustment is the combination of physical distancing and the use of masks. Smaller classes can move into bigger venues to achieve distancing. Others, where it’s not possible, it’s advisable to require masks.”

College officials do not plan to alter the academic calendar. The fall semester is set to begin Aug. 31 and wrap up Dec. 17, according to the college’s website. But there is no set date for when plans will be finalized.

“We have not been advised medically that there is likelihood of a second spike,” Prather said.