St. Augustine

Preparing for the Fall Semester

Page last updated 8/4/2020


So much has changed since we were last together on campus. Our students, faculty, administrators, and staff have risen to meet an extraordinary set of challenges, helping St. John’s University maintain the highest levels of teaching, learning, and support services during this pandemic. We recognize that many of you have done so amid economic insecurity, illness, racialized trauma, loss—and in the case of remote teaching and learning—with little notice or prior training. We are immensely grateful to all of you for your determination, hard work, and resilience, as well as for the care you have shown each other. We are especially appreciative of our students and their families for their patient support of our efforts to ensure the continuity of the learning experience and our students’ progression toward degree completion.

As a direct result of our shared work over the past four months, the St. John’s community is ready for the next stage of our reopening: a resumption of classes taught both in-person and via remote formats, as well as a residential experience. In preparing for the fall, our community’s health, safety, and well-being are our highest priority. We look forward to welcoming back everyone—both those who are able to return to campus and those who will learn or work remotely. By working together to address the varying needs of our community members, we will make the fall semester a success.

We first acknowledge that there is no perfect way to move forward. Each decision we make weighs complex benefits and challenges, with the balance between the two often varying from person to person. Some students experience homelessness and/or lack the resources to meet other essential needs, some find that their social identities make their homes unsafe; for them, a return to campus—even with limitations—is a necessity. Other students, as well as faculty, administrators, and staff, may assess a return to campus quite differently, or they may be unable to return due to their own or a loved one’s health considerations.

Our decision to reopen St. John’s is grounded in our Catholic, Vincentian, metropolitan, and global mission, and our understanding that we have the potential to enrich each other’s learning, lives, and communities differently when we are—even in part—physically together. To that end, this plan represents our efforts to address the needs of our different campuses, and reflects feedback and ideas we have received from across the institution.

Thank you to all who provided input, whether it came to us independently or through formal meetings and committees. In particular, we want to recognize those who have assessed the impact of our decisions from an antiracist and anti-oppressive perspective. The resulting plan incorporates the flexibility needed to support independent decision-making, wherever possible, so that members of our community have the latitude to make the right choices for their circumstances.

Our reopening plan closely follows expert guidelines for higher education provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) (e.g., the DOH’s “Interim Guidance for Higher Education during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,”), and more locally, provided by our partners at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. However, we must remember two core lessons from the past months. First, we need to be adaptive to change. We ask for your flexibility to respond quickly if changes in the local health metrics require adjustments. Second, we must understand that our individual actions are fundamental to keeping our community safe and healthy. These actions include

  • maintaining six feet of distance from other people, except within the “family unit” of a residence hall room/suite/apartment.
  • wearing a face covering while walking around campus and inside University buildings, including classrooms, common areas, and any location where social distancing is difficult to maintain (e.g., offices, hallways, and elevators).
  • washing our hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water frequently(and/or using hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable).
  • using the “COVID-19 Symptom Screening” questionnaire within the St. John’s app or online (under “Resources”) to check for and accurately monitor our health, and remaining safely at home or inside a residence hall room if we present with symptoms of illness.

Return to Campus Task Force Recommendations

With the feedback and involvement of a broad cross-section of the St. John’s community, the Return to Campus Task Force presents the following summary.

Fall Semester Calendar: We have made substantial changes to the academic calendar to create greater flexibility for the St. John’s community, and to optimize the safety of those who choose to live on campus. For the majority of programs, classes will start on Monday, August 24, 2020, and continue through November 20, 2020. Students will return to their homes during the weeklong Thanksgiving break (November 23-28), with remaining course work—mainly final assessments—taking place remotely through December 8, 2020. Full calendar details for all programs are online.

Flexible Class Format: To provide students with the St. John’s campus experience while aligning with best practices for classroom social distancing, we will offer a combination of course formats, including on-campus, in-person courses; courses in two hybrid formats (both traditional and rotating); and courses delivered fully online. All classrooms will be reconfigured to accommodate the CDC’s recommended six feet of social distance during in-person instruction. We have provided additional information on these formats separately, with notations available on student schedules to clarify course modality (check the “Fall 2020 Class Schedule Update” posted here). Students who prefer to take courses in a particular mode—whether fully online or at least partly in-person or hybrid—should work with their academic advisors to discuss their options.

Johnnies Care Compact: A vital piece of these plans will be the “Johnnies Care Compact,” a statement of mutual commitment to community health and behavioral standards that every student, faculty, administrator, and staff member will follow. We have a long tradition of overcoming challenges together, and at this moment—perhaps more than ever before—we as a community must rely on each other to follow public health guidelines for the protection of all. 

Wellness Screening: Each day, we will fill out the quick “COVID 19 Symptom Screening” questionnaire, available on the St. John’s app and online (under “Resources”), prior to entering campus. That survey will help us determine whether we should come to campus or remain home (for employees and for students living off campus) or in our residence hall room. A few key points:

  • An individual who feels sick, has COVID-19 symptoms, or has been potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19, should not come to campus under any circumstances. Individuals who become ill while on campus should return home immediately. Students residing on campus should immediately contact Student Health Services during business hours and the Department of Public Safety after hours. Employees should immediately contact the Benefits Department of Human Resources.
  • If a person has COVID-19 symptoms and either tests positive for COVID-19 or does not take a test, the individual may only return to campus after completing at least 14 days of self-isolation and with clearance from a health-care provider.
  • If a person does not have COVID-19 symptoms but tests positive for COVID-19, the individual may only return to campus after completing at least 14 days of self-isolation and with clearance from a health-care provider.
  • If a person has had close contact with a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time (coming within six feet or less of the person for a period of more than 10 minutes), and is symptomatic, the individual should follow the protocol for a positive case as detailed above.
  • If a person has had close contact with a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time (coming within six feet or less of the person for a period of more than 10 minutes), and is not symptomatic, the individual must complete a 14-day self-quarantine.

Social Distancing: To help keep our community healthy and safe, campus will look different this fall. Following public health guidelines, all of us will adhere to social distancing protocols (except in the “family unit” of a residence hall room/suite/apartment). Some shared spaces, including most residence hall lounges, will be closed for the semester. Other spaces will be reconfigured to accommodate social distancing, with fewer chairs, floor markings, one-way traffic markers, and other signs to help us recognize and comply with best practices. Additional information on social distancing best practices, as well as the Social Distancing and Hygiene Guidelines policy that applies to all University employees, can be found on the Human Resources website.

Face Coverings: The CDC recommends that “people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” With that guidance in mind, we will wear face coverings while walking around campus and inside University buildings, including classrooms, common areas, and any location where social distancing is difficult to maintain (e.g., offices, hallways, bathrooms, and elevators). St. John’s will provide all members of the community with a washable face covering to supplement each person’s supply, and will provide additional personal protective equipment (PPE) as needed. Consistent with applicable laws and regulations, face coverings will not be required for community members with a protected disability, or for those with a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. Students who need an accommodation should contact Student Health Services, while employees should contact the Benefits Department of Human Resources.

Visitors: We will limit campus visitors to invited guests who have made appropriate arrangements prior to their arrival. On the day of their visit, guests will be required to complete a wellness screening questionnaire and adhere to all social distancing and face covering protocols while on campus.

Travel: For the duration of the Fall 2020 semester, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all University travel, including study and work abroad programs, as well as conferences and other out-of-state programs, whether sponsored by St. John’s or another organization. We will consider exceptions on a case-by-case basis to ensure that this decision does not curtail important activity. Anyone considering out-of-state personal travel should prepare for potential state or federal quarantine requirements upon return.

Vulnerable Populations: We understand that members of our community, including the loved ones they interact with regularly, may have underlying health conditions that heighten their health and safety concerns. The University will work with these individuals to allow them to safely continue their education or fulfill their work responsibilities by accommodating their circumstances.

We are grateful for the essential and difficult work that our food service, groundskeeping, maintenance, and housekeeping staff perform and will continue to perform during this challenging time. We have been in regular communication with our service providers to ensure that each team has access to PPE where appropriate, and will continue to ensure that our colleagues receive the health and safety support they need.

Space Modifications: We will limit gatherings in smaller places to one person at a time unless all individuals wear acceptable face coverings and can maintain social distance. Even with face coverings in use, we will limit occupancy to 50 percent of the maximum capacity of a given location, with signs posted to reflect these changes. Services that require one-to-one interaction in small spaces may be provided remotely or by appointment only; however, all services will continue to be available. 

Enhanced Cleaning: In accordance with CDC and DOH guidelines, the University has implemented increased cleaning and disinfection protocols. We have provided cleaning staff with PPE and upgraded cleaning supplies that will allow them to clean and disinfect all buildings prior to the start of each day. In addition, throughout the day, a separate Disinfection Team will tour buildings and disinfect high-volume touch points such as doorknobs, levers, handrails, railings, restrooms, and elevator buttons. We will all have access to hand sanitizer, with multiple stations throughout each campus, and sanitizing wipes will be available for individual use in each classroom, in large shared spaces (such as cafeterias), and in departments and offices. We have posted signs across campus to remind everyone of the importance of proper hand washing and sanitizing, the use of PPE, and social distancing. 

Ventilation Systems: Several measures have been taken to reduce the spread of the virus through heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. HVAC systems have gone through a complete maintenance cycle to ensure they run optimally, and all filters have been upgraded to a denser material to remove more particulates from the air, including viral particulates. In addition, more fresh air will be brought into buildings as outside temperatures allow.

Food Service: In order to enhance the safety of our dining services, we have reconfigured seating and queueing areas to maintain six feet of social distance, added Plexiglas partitions at cashier stations, and implemented mobile and cashless ordering systems in some locations to reduce lines. We have also eliminated self-service food options and shifted to single-serving condiments (e.g., dressings, ketchup, and mustard). Our food service colleagues will wear appropriate PPE and participate in a daily wellness screening that includes temperature checks. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reopen the Faculty Club or the Red Storm Diner.

Activities and Services: St. John’s recognizes the central role that extra- and cocurricular programming plays in the student experience. The Division of Student Affairs has begun working with student organizations to switch to online formats where possible, moving much of its programming to virtual formats. When in-person gatherings take place, we will maintain social distancing and wear face coverings to care for each other. In addition, though many offices will continue to be staffed, many activities and appointments will move to a virtual format for the semester (e.g., University Career Services, the Center for Counseling and Consultation, Human Resources, the International Student and Scholar Services Office, the University Learning Commons, Student Financial Services, and the University Writing Center).

Residence Halls: To reduce density in our halls while meeting student needs, we have eliminated triple and quad occupancy rooms, added guest restrictions, and will continue working individually with students who indicate an underlying health condition on their housing applications. We will also host multiple fall move-in days to ensure appropriate social distancing throughout the process. Resident students will receive additional information on move-in and other fall residence life considerations over the next two weeks.

Testing: Students and employees coming from domestic or international locations requiring a 14-day quarantine under state or federal guidelines must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken after the quarantine’s conclusion. We will provide students with information on testing locations. In partnership with a health-care provider, we will require testing of all symptomatic individuals, and students, faculty, administrators, and staff who have been in close contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Contact Tracing: In coordination with New York City and New York State authorities, St. John’s will support contact tracing initiatives to ensure that emerging cases of COVID-19 are quickly contained to prevent spread. We are all required to fully cooperate with contact tracing inquiries.

Self-Quarantine/Isolation: Members of the St. John’s community who test positive for COVID-19 are required to self-isolate in accordance with the latest guidelines from health authorities and their health-care providers. Employees, students who commute, and resident students who live within a reasonable distance of campus will self-isolate at home; resident students who are unable to return home will stay in a residence hall restricted only to this purpose. In partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian Queens, students who are ill or who test positive will be monitored by a COVID-19 Care Team, who will check in with these students daily to monitor their health. St. John’s will provide for their needs (e.g., delivering food and medicine, connecting them to academic support, etc.).

Students should always have a copy of their health insurance card with them and should be familiar with how to use it. For more information on what this means, we recommend that you contact your insurance provider. 

Shutdown Plans: St. John’s will continue to pay close attention to New York State’s “Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard” and the state’s phased reopening plan to check for shifts in transmission. In addition, we will track our own infection rates and quarantine capacity to ensure that we are able to support incidents that arise. If a shutdown of on-campus activities is necessary, we will work with students, faculty, administrators, and staff to quickly wind down classes and shift back to a fully online learning environment. We will also provide guidance to resident students on move-out protocols to help them return home.

Closing Comments

We hope that you can rest and enjoy time with loved ones this summer, whether in person or remotely. In the meantime, we continue to prepare our campuses for your safe arrival. St. John’s is a beautiful place, but it is missing its single most important attribute: our students. We cannot wait to welcome you back!

COVID-19 Communications

For an archive of past communications related to the COVID-19 public health pandemic, please visit our website.