Health and Safety Top Priorities as Fall Semester Begins
South Texas students, faculty, and staff kicked off the fall semester on Monday, Aug. 17. Fall 2020 instruction will be delivered through a hybrid model — combining online delivery with in-person classes formatted for safe distancing practices. The decision was based on input from students, guidance from medical professionals, and the law school’s guiding principles throughout the pandemic: providing for the health and safety of the South Texas community, maintaining excellence in our educational mission, and preserving and fostering the law school’s unique sense of community.
The hybrid instructional format allows the law school to be responsive to the community’s changing needs amidst the pandemic. Students and faculty members can learn and teach remotely if their situations demand it. In-person classes will be streamed simultaneously to allow for real-time student participation via Zoom, and all classes will be recorded. All new and continuing students have been issued a Zoom Pro license to use for classes, study groups, and social connectivity.
The law school also introduced a collection of new policies and codes of conduct designed to promote transparency, accountability, and connection as the community works together to keep one another safe. This includes the implementation of extensive health and safety protocols for those returning to campus.
The law school has introduced extensive measures to accommodate COVID-19 safety guidelines, including building out provisional classrooms; limiting class sizes to allow for six-foot distancing; installing plexiglass dividers in classrooms, offices, and common areas; and increasing cleaning procedures throughout campus.
Another strategic measure is the campus-wide use of ReturnSafe, a smartphone app with health screening and contact-tracing capabilities. Anyone entering the building will complete a daily screening, acknowledging they have not been exposed to, tested positive for, or experienced symptoms of COVID-19 in the previous 14 days. Additionally, if a member of the community has a positive diagnosis, the owners of smartphones that have been near that individual for an extended period of time will receive an anonymous notice that there may have been exposure to COVID-19; no names or identities will be revealed to either party. The app is secure and confidential. It does not track users’ activity or location, and identifying information is shared only with a limited group of administrators.
“With a vaccine months away, it is inevitable that one or more members of our community will be diagnosed with COVID-19 this year,” said STCL Houston President and Dean Michael F. Barry. “With the ReturnSafe app, we can identify the people who were in contact with a diagnosed individual and need to quarantine — while keeping our doors open and our community safe.”
Administrators enlisted Dr. Setul Patel of FormulaMed to assess the campus re-entry plan and building protocols. Dr. Patel and his team gave STCL Houston stellar marks and suggested some minor adjustments, which the administration has implemented.
“Of all our engagements, [South Texas] had by far one of the most successful launches prior to our arrival,” Patel said. “That’s a testament to the thoughtful philosophy that has gone into [the re-entry plan] — which is to put health and safety at the forefront of every discussion.”