Dear Gallaudet and Clerc Center communities:
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us as never before. I am so proud of how we rose to the occasion, and of our unwavering commitment to hold fast to all that Gallaudet University represents — bilingual education and sign language vibrancy. There truly is no other place like this in the world.
The purpose of this communication is to outline for our community how we are addressing our future plans and what you can expect from our community leadership in the weeks and months ahead.
We are communicating today two University-specific decisions:
- The University will start the fall semester with remote learning, and
- as we do so, the University will work to bring its students back to campus.
Clerc Center will continue to communicate its plans for P-12 directly with its students, families, staff, and teachers.
The Way Forward to Bringing Our Community Back to Campus
We will sequence through three phases as we restore our community on campus. We recognize that different operations and activities may sequence through these phases in different ways and at a different pace, depending on many variables. Please know that this approach is consistent with the Guiding Principles we have followed throughout this pandemic, and with what public health officials and health departments are requiring of institutions like ours. We must be able to be flexible and adaptive in our response to this complex virus that is creating uncertainty for all of us.
The three phases are:
We are currently in Phase 1, which requires primarily remote working, teaching, and learning operations. Following guidance from medical and public health officials, the majority of activities this summer, including learning, teaching, and working, are being conducted remotely.
Hybrid (Remote and Face-to-Face) Activities
Beginning Phase 2 depends on our capacity for reliable and rapid testing, adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, and critical modifications to our physical environment to meet physical distancing requirements. With guidance from public health authorities, we will introduce a mix of remote and face-to-face elements where and when appropriate in each of the different tracks described below. As government officials announce and lift different restrictions, we will announce our plans for moving into Phase 2 for various activities and operations on campus.
Adapted On-Campus Learning, Living, and Working
In this phase, face-to-face activities will take place to the maximum extent possible, with adaptations made for appropriate physical distancing to ensure safety and well-being.
Should COVID-19 continue to pose a health threat, we will maintain the flexibility to quickly return to prior phases.
Managing Uncertainty through Communication and Patience
We cannot pinpoint exactly when we will move from one phase to the next, or what we need to know to prepare and make decisions. So many decisions will be influenced by the global and domestic responses to the pandemic. We are committed to communicating with our community about our plans to move between phases as quickly as we can to support you in making plans and decisions. We also are committed to community engagement and shared governance to ensure that we are building the strongest way forward at both Gallaudet and Clerc Center. For this reason, we ask for your patience, and your trust that we are moving with our collective best interest in mind and as quickly as we can.
Public Health and Safety Task Force Established
We have formed an overarching Public Health and Safety Task Force that will monitor four different “tracks” that represent key functions of our University’s mission. This Task Force is led by Dr. Rosanne Rushing, director of the Public Health program, and Dr. Alicia Wooten. assistant professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Mathematics. Ted Baran, chair of the Crisis Leadership Team and director of Public Safety and Transportation, will also provide leadership and support. This Task Force will monitor reports on the pandemic and work with the appropriate public health authorities on health and safety matters, including planning for comprehensive testing for COVID-19, contact tracing, and quarantine and isolation protocols. They will also be responsible for ensuring that all designs for our campus, including classrooms, offices, and residence halls, are safe. They will ensure that we are using appropriate physical distancing measures that will balance health and safety with other needs, particularly visual and tactile communication. This team will review all plans for restoration of our campus developed by four distinct and complementary “tracks.” Those plans, in turn, will then be reviewed by other authorities, including the government of the District of Columbia.
Four Tracks: Restoring Key Functions and Operations
We have begun plans for restoration in four separate tracks:
- Clerc Center
- University Academics and Research
- Campus Living, and
- Working on Campus.
Each track will have its own timeline for moving through the phases once key benchmarks for health and safety are met. Track leaders are committed to regularly communicating brief updates to the community on their track planning efforts. They will also provide updates within our biweekly communications.
Clerc Center (P-12), led by Nicole Sutliffe, Chief Administrative Officer, and Marianne Belsky, Chief Academic Officer
Since April, the Clerc Center has offered classes to students at home through an online learning portal. This portal also provides virtual resources for families, social-emotional learning opportunities, and tools for digital learning. We look forward to our MSSD seniors finishing strong at their virtual graduation this Friday.
Clerc Center is preparing for a phased opening following the same high-level guidance as above, while planning for the unique considerations for returning to on-campus learning for Kendall Demonstration Elementary School and residence learning for Model Secondary School for the Deaf. These planning efforts will encompass continued work to improve delivery of digital educational content, as well as the safety and operational concerns that are needed for younger students and the professionals that work with them.
University Academics and Research, led by Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, Interim Provost
At the University, we saw a remarkable 99 percent of students complete the spring semester through virtual learning. High school seniors, transfer students, and new graduate students are showing robust interest in enrolling in Gallaudet this fall. Our current students are showing strong interest in continuing and completing their education. We will build on and enhance the educational experience this fall. Faculty and staff will continue to work to restore research functions and improve the student learning experience digitally, and ultimately in person, and to resolve inequities that impact our students’ educational experience.
This summer, nearly all of our faculty are meeting with our faculty online training team, learning to be more effective and engaging in their remote instruction, and how to design sign language-vibrant learning experiences for their students.
Campus Living, led by Travis Imel, Dean of Student Affairs
A cross-divisional team, including students, will determine how to bring our students back to campus, while learning is still conducted virtually. Our greatest constraints are related to health and safety concerns, and will depend both on the university facilities, and the availability of appropriate health and safety measures like testing, personal protective equipment, and health care services. Central to our success will be how we can develop student commitment to lead and support the health and safety measures that we put in place.
Working on Campus, led by Dominic Lacy, Chief Operating Officer
This team will prepare employees who are now working remotely to rejoin those who have continued to work on campus and will develop plans to support employees to adapt as we move through the different phases. Key initiatives and tools will be developed and implemented as we prepare to improve our functional capacity to work both digitally and in person in the years ahead.
A Special Commitment to Campus Life for Students and Student Leadership
At the heart of the quintessential educational experience is the personal growth gained from the richness of direct in-person visual interaction with teachers, faculty, and peers. This is especially true at Gallaudet, where our bilingual and signing-vibrant environment offers our students a unique experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else. Although the experience will not be the same pre-pandemic, we are exploring ways for some of our university students to experience campus life even while elements of teaching, learning, and working may continue to be conducted digitally.
We believe that student engagement will provide opportunities to learn and demonstrate leadership. The goal will be to create a student-led model whereby students create a vision forward for our campus and our broader community during this public health crisis.
Our strong collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic this spring was possible because of the grace we showed each other as we navigated this new world together and our commitment to engaging and communicating with each other. While there are still more questions than answers, each new piece of information brings us one step closer to our ultimate goal — to reunite our community on Kendall Green.
Our overall charge is to restore different parts of our community and mission in a safe way — one that respects the uniqueness and importance of our mission to the people we serve, both at the Clerc Center and at Gallaudet University. We will stay in touch throughout the summer months.
I wish you all a safe and healthy start to your summer.
Roberta J. Cordano