GRAND FORKS -- As South Dakota universities prepare to make changes to their academic calendars due to the COVID-19 pandemic, North Dakota and Minnesota university systems are discussing how best to keep students, faculty and staff safe in the fall.

In an effort to reduce travel, South Dakota’s six public universities -- Black Hills State University, Dakota State University, Northern State University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, South Dakota State University and University of South Dakota -- will begin their fall semester Aug. 19 and conclude classroom instruction by Thanksgiving, the South Dakota Board of Regents reported Wednesday, June 3.

The Aug. 19 date is three days earlier than originally scheduled. Instead of returning to campus after the Thanksgiving recess Nov. 25-29, students will complete their final exams remotely.

“The goal is to maintain the academic calendar while being mindful of public health,” Regents President John W. Bastian said in a statement. “Our university presidents recommended this adjustment to reduce student travel to and from campus. Everyone is looking for ways to successfully operate during a global pandemic and avoid the spread of this coronavirus wherever possible.”

Additionally, in order to provide for required instructional time in a condensed semester and to further reduce travel, three holidays — Labor Day, Native American Day, and Veterans Day — will become class days. With classes in session on those dates, universities will plan programming to appropriately recognize the holidays. Employees will be given time off in lieu of these holidays later in the year.

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After the Thanksgiving holiday, students have two non-class days available as they prepare for final exams Dec. 2-8. All university campuses plan to be closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day to facilitate deep cleaning and other preparations for the spring semester.

Pandemic planning is underway on all campuses, with additional details and protocols to be announced.

No decision in ND

The North Dakota University System has not made a decision on whether it will move its fall calendar yet. Schools in the NDUS are set to start on the evening of Aug. 24 with the first full day on Aug. 25. The university system recently launched its “smart restart” plan, which looks to give flexibility to campuses to make the best decisions for students, faculty and staff.

There have been extensive discussions about what the fall semester will look like at the University of Minnesota system. However, no final decisions have been made in regards to fall semester and its schedule, but fall planning is expected to be a topic of discussion at next week's Board of Regents meetings.

The system has started a Fall 2020 Scenarios Advisory Team, which first met at the end of April. The team includes public health experts, academic leaders and operational representatives from across the system. The team is focusing on five key areas of the system's academic life: classrooms/study spaces/libraries; labs/studios; housing/dining; rec centers/student unions/events/student groups; outreach/engagement.

Minnesota sticks to plan

At this time, the Minnesota State system has no plans to change its academic calendar, according to Doug Anderson, director of communications and media for the system, who said the system will “of course, adapt as necessary according to guidance provided by the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health to safely serve our students and continue to provide an extraordinary education.”

“Every one of the 30 colleges and seven universities of Minnesota State will be open in the fall and ready to welcome students and will offer a mix of on-campus and online courses reflecting how each institution can best support its students and their success,” he said in an email.

Classes start on Aug. 24 for Minnesota State system campuses.