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Sam Houston State University’s new Conroe campus adjusts to COVID guidelines

This is the first semester that the new Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Conroe has welcomed students to campus, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the year is not starting as anticipated.

The College of Osteopathic Medicine received its pre-accreditation status in September of last year, which allowed the college to start recruiting new students. The school’s first class is 75 students but in about two years the school plans to double that number to meet its full capacity of 150 students.

As the COVID-19 pandemic made its way into Montgomery County, Sam Houston State University began to plan for changes to the new year, keeping in mind all the requirements their students will have to meet to become medical practitioners. Back in March, faculty were asked to work remotely and the school began to plan for a year that looked very different from what was originally planned.


“At first, students had limited time in the building but we felt very strongly that their experiential learning, their lab learning, we needed them in the building to do that, we needed them with their faculty to do that,” said Mari Hopper, associate dean for Biomedical Sciences at the campus.

In order to bring the students to campus safely for their experiential learning, the class was divided into four groups that rotated into the building throughout the day to keep the population in the building low. Before students even arrived, the school put together a video message for them that outlined the expectations in place for being in the building (masks, hand washing, social distancing, etc) with a message from the dean. Classes started on Aug. 10 as planned.

Portions of the classes that were not lab-based are being offered through remote learning. Students can access that work through Blackboard. While some of it is synchronous learning, students accessed it while it was happening, much of it was asynchronous, so they could access it on their own time.

Within the four groups that met together, students were split into even smaller groups of five and six to study and practice together with self-directed work.

“We also recognize that students, frankly, were in need of learning support,” Hopper said. “Those small groups provided the opportunity to collaborate with their peers, and medical students really need and request that.”

The groups also help meet the students’ need for social interactions in a safe space. As of Oct. 7, Hopper said the college had not had any cases of COVID-19 in its students. Students are self-monitoring for symptoms at home and before they come to campus they sign an attestation that they are not ill. When they get to the lab their temperature is taken before they can enter.

In response to the pandemic, the school created a student response team for the possibility of a student becoming ill. The team, Hopper said, made of clinicians and faculty, isn’t there to treat

A Student Dies, and a Campus Gets Serious About Coronavirus

BOONE, N.C. — Since last Monday, when a sophomore at his school died from suspected Covid-19 complications, Chase Sturgis says he has been thinking about his own bout with the coronavirus — and his own mortality.

Mr. Sturgis, 21, had been avoiding socializing over the summer, but as students at his school, Appalachian State University, began returning to campus in August, he yielded to temptation. “We went out to a bar,” he said. Within days he felt ill, and then tested positive for coronavirus: “To this day I have no sense of taste or smell.”

But even more unnerving is the “really, honestly scary” realization that he and the student who died, 19-year-old Chad Dorrill, were sick at about the same time, with similar symptoms and no known pre-existing conditions. “He died a week or two after he got the virus,” Mr. Sturgis said. “It has been about two weeks for me.”

Young people have generally been at lower risk of developing severe cases of Covid-19, and there have been only a few student deaths linked to the virus. But while that statistical advantage may have led to apathy about the pandemic at some institutions, Mr. Dorrill’s death has shaken the rural Appalachian State campus in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sparking questions about whether the college is doing enough to keep its students and faculty safe.

“It’s not a hoax, that this virus really does exist,” said a classmate of Mr. Sturgis, Emma Crider. “Before this, the overall mentality was ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”

As if to underscore that point, cases at Appalachian State, part of North Carolina’s state university system, spiked sharply last week. On Thursday, the school canceled an upcoming football game and announced outbreaks in four residence halls, two fraternity houses, the volleyball team and the football program. The school’s dashboard shows more than 700 confirmed Covid-19 cases at the 20,000-student campus since early June.

Aside from athletes, who must be tested under N.C.A.A. rules, Appalachian State has not conducted the kind of costly, widespread mandatory testing and tracing of people with and without symptoms that has helped control the virus at some campuses. Rather, the school has offered voluntary testing at its student health center and at “pop-up” test sites where students can walk up and be tested twice weekly.

That approach, the school’s website says, is based on C.D.C. guidance, which has advised against testing all students upon arrival to campus. Health experts have criticized the C.D.C.’s guidance as weak and confusing, but many large public colleges have based their coronavirus health regimens on it.

Surrounding Watauga County also experienced its worst 7-day period in the pandemic this past week, according to data collected by The New York Times. Coronavirus cases in the county have more than doubled since Sept. 1, to more than 1,300, and an update last week found “the largest percentage of cases in the 18-24 old age group.”

Despite efforts by most colleges and universities to contain the virus

West Orange-Cove schools to require virtual learning students with failing grades, too many absences to return to campus

The West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District amended its virtual learning policy, and the changes may force dozens of students to return to campus. 

Some parents angry as West Orange-Cove schools change virtual learning policy for students with failing grades, too many absences

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It’s a move that isn’t sitting well with some parents as they weigh the dangers of face to face learning during a pandemic. 

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The policy has sparked outrage among some students and parents of WOCCISD, and many feel like they’re having to choose between health and an education. 

Virtual learning has become a way of life during the pandemic. The prospect of it not being available concerns parent Ryan Melancon. 

“This decision doesn’t just affect money, it doesn’t just affect kids’ education, it affects the lives of parents and the grandparents these students will come and contact with,” Melancon said. 

RELATED: State health department takes down COVID-19 school tracker after reports of errors

He has two children in WOCCISD. The district recently announced that students who aren’t passing and who have more than 5 absences can no longer participate in virtual learning. 

A district spokesperson said a number of students simply aren’t showing up and aren’t completing coursework, which led to the change in policy. 

Rayne Keith, Melancon’s daughter, said her biggest concern is potentially bringing the virus home. 

“My dad could die and I just don’t want that to happen so I take it very seriously and there are a bunch of parents that their parents could die from COVID and the school just doesn’t seem to care,” Keith said. 

She feels that the school should handle things differently. 

“The school has made a situation that they could have managed a lot worse,” Keith said.

WOCCISD will allow a few exceptions. Some of those who are passing classes, have health conditions, or have been exposed to the virus will be exempt. Melancon said it’s not enough, and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his kids. 

“If I have to pull them from the district I will. They will not be going back. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when they will catch COVID at these schools,” Melancon said. 

Students who meet the criteria that the district has set are expected to return to campus on Monday, October 5. For anyone with concerns about the policy, you’re encouraged to contact the district. 

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