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Two universities that were planning on in-person fall terms are now backing away from those plans due to the rise in coronavirus cases, and a third university is shifting its second summer session courses online.

Meanwhile, Florida State University clarified that employees can care for children while working from home after facing a backlash over a memo it sent June 26 suggesting employees working remotely would need to secure childcare by Aug. 7.

Here's an update on some of the latest news developments regarding the impact of COVID-19 on higher education:

  • The University of Southern California announced last week that undergraduate students will take all or most of their courses online, reversing course from earlier plans to invite undergraduates back to campus for an in-person fall semester. In announcing the decision, USC administrators cited “an alarming spike in coronavirus cases [in Los Angeles], making it clear we need to dramatically reduce our on-campus density and all indoor activities for the fall semester.”

USC senior administrators said in a message last updated July 2 that their plans for returning to full campus operations had not yet been approved by Los Angeles County officials. They also cited new restrictions on indoor business activities imposed by California governor Gavin Newsom following a rise in COVID-related hospitalizations.

“Given the continuing safety restrictions and limited densities permissible on campus, our undergraduate students primarily or exclusively will be taking their courses online in the fall term, and on-campus housing and activities will be limited,” they wrote.

  • Across the country, in Virginia, Hampton University also cited the rise in coronavirus cases in announcing it was changing its plans to reopen the campus in favor of a remote-only fall. Hampton president William R. Harvey said the “COVID-19 situation has changed drastically,” forcing the university to change its plans.

“Not reopening the campus to students will minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19 on campus and in the Hampton, Virginia community. It is our hope that this will also allow sufficient time for the threat of the virus to diminish,” Harvey wrote in a July 1 message.

Hampton said it would reduce tuition and fees by 15 percent for the fall semester, resulting in a savings of $2,187 for a full-time undergraduate student.

  • Texas State University said it would shift almost all of the classes for its second summer session online, with the only classes that will remain face-to-face being those “that require a face-to-face component for licensure or degree requirements.” Texas State is still planning a return to face-to-face instruction and full campus services for the fall term, which is scheduled to start Aug. 24.
  • Florida State University has clarified that employees can continue to care for children while working remotely, backing away from a memo it previously sent on June 26 saying otherwise.

The previous memo, which said that employees would no longer be able to care for children while working remotely starting on Aug. 7, was widely criticized on social media and received widespread media attention, including an article in People magazine. 

In a July 2 message, Florida State said it realized the June 26 memo from human resources "caused confusion and anxiety for many employees. That is the opposite of what we want to communicate to our dedicated faculty and staff. With so many factors still in flux -- including increasing numbers of COVID cases and the possible delay of the re-opening of local schools -- we recognize the need for sensitivity, flexibility, and deference to the personal and public health imperatives of this moment."

"We want to be clear -- our policy does allow employees to work from home while caring for children," the university said. "We are requesting that employees coordinate with their supervisors on a schedule that allows them to meet their parental responsibilities in addition to work obligations."

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