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Six students test positive in return to FPU campus

  • Franklin Pierce University student Lillian Willoughby, of North Andover, Massachusetts, center, returned to campus last week to begin classes in-person at the Rindge campus. Courtesy photos

  • Above: FPU student Jordan Beckett, of Monroe, Connecticut, moves into his dormitory last week at the Rindge campus. Below: FPU student Ashley Smith, of Worcester, Massachusetts, and her mother unpack at her FPU dormitory. Courtesy photos—

  • Franklin Pierce University students returned to campus last week and began classes. Courtesy photos—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/24/2020 4:41:01 PM

In-class instruction began for more than 1,200 Franklin Pierce University students on the Rindge campus last week, despite six students testing positive for the COVID-19 virus during testing done on every student as they arrived on campus.

Several colleges around the country have had to backtrack on in-person classes after coronavirus outbreaks and students holding large off-campus parties, pitfalls Franklin Pierce hopes to avoid.

Colleges across the country have struggled with reopening, with institutions such as Miami University in Ohio, University of Maryland, and Illinois State University delaying in person starts, and others announcing late in the summer that they would be scrapping in-person instruction plans for a virtual model, including Goucher College, Salem College and Berklee College of Music.

Others started in person, and then had to shut down, notably North Carolina Chapel Hill, after 135 people tested positive a week after classes began in person on Aug. 10.

University President Kim Mooney said in a statement to the Ledger-Transcript on Monday that the university’s social distancing guidelines “are not requests” and are “crucial.”

“It’s natural for college students to want to gather so this is an issue that all university leaders nationwide will face periodically throughout the term, either with reminders or disciplinary action when required,” Mooney said.

Franklin Pierce University has been taking precautions during its first week to avoid potential contact between infected students as they arrive on campus to start the fall semester. Student move-in was staggered over several days, with students limited on the number of family members who could accompany them, and all students and their parents wearing masks. All students either provided recent negative testing results from within the last 72 hours or were tested for the COVID-19 virus upon arriving, and students will be randomly tested throughout the semester.

Six students had tested positive, or about 0.46 percent of the population, and are being quarantined, according to a campus-wide communication sent to students and faculty on Saturday. According to Dean of Students Andrew Pollom, infected students were given the option to either return home or to stay on campus in a designated isolation area specifically prepared by the university for quarantine. Student Health Services or the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services will be required to sign off on the health of all students in quarantine before they return to in-person classes.

“Having positive cases is not unexpected and is something we planned for,” said Pollom, in Saturday’s email. “The question has always been not whether we would encounter COVID-19, but what steps we will take collectively to reduce the likelihood of exposure and keep the community safe. With this in mind, I want to remind all Ravens to follow the health and safety requirements we have in place. Wear your masks, maintain social distance, wash your hands often and follow all guidelines. Abide by them and demand that others do the same. Please also respect the privacy of any individuals who tested positive.”

Katrina Wilson, 21, of Rindge, is entering her senior year at Franklin Pierce as a Health Science major, and she was notified of the positive tests, and that those students had been isolated and those they had been in contact with had been notified to quarantine until they were tested again and received a negative result. She said she was satisfied the university was doing all the right things to prevent the spread from those infected students.

“I think a lot of people are experiencing nerves, because we haven’t been around this many people for months,” Wilson said. “But the school has put the work in.”

Students are expected to attend classes in person, unless granted an exemption by the college such as in positive cases or potential exposure to COVID-19, Doug Ley, president of the Rindge Faculty Federation and professor of history at the university said. Those who are attending remotely during quarantine have the ability to access a real-time video of the class and can still participate.

While only a few days into classes, Ley said things have been working well, with students masked during classes and socially distanced.

“It is very strange teaching a class wearing a mask, and trying to identify students while they’re wearing a mask,” Ley said.

The union also negotiated the right for teachers to teach classes remotely, or outdoors, which was granted and Ley said about 20 percent of the full-time teachers have taken the option to teach remotely.

“The rest of us are teaching face-to-face, and that’s worked thus far. I’m wearing a mask, students are wearing masks, and everyone is spaced properly. I don’t think that will be the problem area, if there is one. It will be what’s happening outside of classes,” Ley said.

Wilson said students are well aware of the heavy responsibility they bear to follow the protocol set out by the school.

“A lot is on our shoulders, and everyone is taking it seriously,” Wilson said. “So far, it seems like we have that accountability and are keeping each other in check.”

Wilson said students are keenly aware that the incoming freshmen lost a lot of their high school senior year, and no one wants to be responsible for the school shutting down and losing those experiences for yet another year’s worth of classmates.

“We’ve lost enough,” Wilson said. “I just want to finish out my senior year and hopefully be able to walk across the stage to collect my diploma.” She said she’s willing to take random screenings, mask wearing, and follow the rules if that’s what it takes. “Our school has spent a lot of time and thought making sure we can do this in-person,” she said.

This year, 1,242 students are attending university at the Rindge campus, which is a smaller undergraduate enrollment than usual, according to Mooney. While the majority are from the New England area, students from all over the world are enrolled and attending classes in Rindge. About 90 percent are residential students and are living in one of Franklin Pierce’s 10 residential halls, the remainder are commuter students.

They are also required to wear masks in common areas or when they are not able  to socially distance. Events such as homecoming and family day are not happening this fall, with the college anticipating holding those events in the spring, but students are allowed to leave campus.

“Our students are young adults, so we do not require them to give permission to leave campus,” said President Kim Mooney. “We have; however, asked that all students think carefully about the reason they are leaving, and if it is deemed necessary to do so, that they follow the guidelines we have in place for social distancing and wearing face masks.” Mooney also noted that the university’s code of conduct allows for students to be disciplined for conduct off-campus.

Lynda Hunt, president of the Rindge Chamber of Commerce, said she was pleased with the steps the college had taken to attempt to limit potential spread to the wider Rindge community.

“I think that’s the best way to go. If they want to keep the school open, that’s the best way to do it. Our numbers are low in New Hampshire, and we certainly want to keep it that way,” Hunt said. “I know everyone’s tired of it, I understand, but it’s just what we have to do, and my take on this is FPU is doing a great job.”

Clark Miller, who co-owns Emma’s 321 Pub in Rindge, said the restaurant decided to take some extra precautions for at least the first few weeks the college is back in session, implementing a mask policy for customers as they enter or are walking around the restaurant, thought they can remove masks while at their table. Miller said the restaurant has followed all of the state’s recommended protocols since they were allowed to reopen, with six feet of separation between tables, employees wearing masks, disposable menus and other precautions.

Miller said he’s been in close contact with the college about their protocols for students, and said the testing requirements helped put his mind at ease, but said he and his co-owner and wife Tera Miller decided to take the extra precaution by having customers mask anyway.

“With so many students coming in from all over the place, it was an extra precaution. At least for now, I don’t think it will be a permanent change,” Miller said.


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asa ari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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