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Northern plans to resume classroom teaching Aug. 31


Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

A man walks along the back side of Cowan Hall on the edge of the quad Tuesday on the campus of Montana State University-Northern. The campus has been mostly shut down since mid-March, with classes taught using distanced learning, but the university plans to re-open its classrooms Aug. 31.

Montana State University-Northern plans on having classes for its fall semester back in the classroom.

"We've decided that we are going to have students back face-to-face on this campus," Chancellor Greg Kegel said Tuesday. "We've decided that the start date will remain the same as what we've scheduled, and we are trying to figure out the safest way that we can bring those kids back, for them and for everybody involved like all the faculty and staff."

The first day of the fall semester classes is set for Monday, Aug. 31.

The school has been running with distanced learning and the campus mostly shut down since Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian made that order March 12 for all Montana University System campuses to reduce the spread of novel coronavirus 2019.

Kegel said Tuesday that the school is looking at all the options that they can do such as how many students can they put in a classroom, how many students can they put in a residence hall, optional testing available for them to monitor their health and so on.

The school is also looking at preserving the quality of instruction so that whatever the course work is the students get it and the depth they need to have, he added.

"I've always said forever that, when you look at a comprehensive four-year like Northern, half of the reason that students come to the university is for student life," he said. "They want to be involved in the campus activities, and so we're looking at how we do keep them safe and still have that mass of kids involved and doing the normal student life things that occur on campus, participating in sporting activities, club activities when there's groups of people, that's why you come to the university."

The worry, he said, is having students come back from all over the United States and how to control that so that an incident does not occur.

"This is probably the safest place in America to be," Kegel said. "And it would be nice if we could keep this the safest place, and that's what I'm worried about."

He said by the time students return back to campus in August the Northern Stadium will be ready.

"I can just see right now they want to do Game Day and they want to start Game Day Friday Night and we are going to have Game Day Saturday, then we are going to have a celebration just like it always is," he said. "We all want that, but at the same time, I have to figure out how to do that in a way that is responsible and safe, so that's what we're doing. We're spending a lot of time on what are the pitfalls of this scenario."

Everything through the summer will be online, he said.

In the middle of the semester, in March, Northern had to switch from face-to-face formats and hands-on learning to online remote learning.

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

Vande-Bogart Library is seen Tuesday on the empty campus of Montana State University-Northern.

"We're lucky in the fact that I've got a really good office of teaching and learning excellence that's comprised of three people that assist our faculty in basically all of the pedagogy that's involved in teaching," Kegel said. "... We got through that."

He said he thinks Northern has handled the transition well into moving to remote learning. He said he created a COVID-19 task force he has met with every morning for the past three months to do a briefing and a debriefing that is keeping everybody up to date on campus related news.

People interested in more information can visit Northern's website under the COVID-19 tab at https://www.msun.edu/covid-19/current.aspx .

"I couldn't be prouder of the way how Northern handled it and I can tell you that our students are saying the same thing," Kegel said. "We all did it together and went probably better than we expected it would."


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